The benefits of good mental health and wellbeing are priceless – in more ways than one.

Many people who are experiencing mental health issues are concerned about the financial costs of mental health care. It’s not uncommon for people to put off care as they are worried that it will be expensive. Here are some good tips to help you reduce the cost of mental health care.

For many patients with mental health issues, the start point is going along to the GP, for a general consultation or perhaps to undertake what is called a GP Mental Health Care Plan. This is a structured consultation with the GP which involves a clinical assessment and agreeing on a plan of management.

Before booking in with your GP it’s worth enquiring about the costs. Is it a clinic that bulk bills all patients which means no cost to the patient? Or perhaps they provide bulkbilling only to patients with a health care card or a concession card? If there’s going to be a cost above the Medicare rebate it’s good to find out in advance. If you are under financial pressure it’s worth mentioning this to the GP who has discretion to bulk bill patients who are experiencing financial hardship.

In Australia that we have number of programs to try to make our mental health system more accessible and affordable. If you have a GP mental health plan, under the Better Access program, you’re entitled to access six – and up to 10 – Medicare subsidised psychological treatment sessions.

These sessions are usually with a psychologist and the costs can vary. Private psychologists set their own rates, but they can adjust fees according to your financial circumstances so it’s important to let your psychologist know if you’re experiencing financial hardship. Find out in advance how much you’ll be out-of-pocket once you’ve claimed the Medicare rebate if you have a GP mental health care plan. If you do have private health insurance find out if you’re covered for rebates for part of the cost of psychological consultations.

There are some psychological services in community-based or government services that are usually low or no cost. There is usually no cost to attend psychological services at one of the headspace centres for people aged between 12-25. Community centres also have low or no cost psychologists available. Public hospitals have a range of ways of accessing mental health services that are usually no cost to the patient. However, in general, public hospitals tend to provide care with more severe mental health issues.

A lady walks along a road

Another common concern for people experiencing mental health issues is the cost of medications – especially as many of the medications for mental health conditions are taken over a long period. In Australia we have the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which subsidises the cost of medications. It’s worth a discussion with your pharmacist and doctor about whether or not perhaps you could have a generic version of your medication which is generally cheaper. If you’re eligible for a health care card or a concession card this can reduce the cost of treatments from GPs, mental health professionals and also the costs of medication.

In the longer term, if you’re experiencing chronic mental health issues, difficulties with employment and/or financial hardship, you may discuss with your GP the possibility of applying for Centrelink support, which can be a lifeline for people with chronic mental health issues.

Whichever path you take, once assessed, treatment should match your unique situation and needs. Don’t be shy in asking questions about how much a suggested treatment will cost and the likely impacts on your symptoms and overall health.

You can follow Dr Blashki on Twitter.

Related reading: Questions to ask your health professional

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