Supporting someone to see a health professional

Supporting someone to see a health professional about anxiety and/or depression can be really difficult. But if you've had a conversation with them about their mental health already, it's important to keep up the momentum and keep encouraging them to seek professional support.

Getting to the first appointment

Start with a General Practitioner (GP)

The best place to start is by making an appointment with the person’s GP. You could also consider a GP in your area who has been recommended by friends or a GP who is highly regarded in mental health.

If you don’t have or know a GP in your area, you can use our Find a professional web page to find a list of practitioners (including GPs, clinical psychologists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists) who have a special interest in mental health, and have undertaken additional training in the treatment of anxiety and depression. You can also contact the beyondblue Support Service to help find a health professional in your area.

When the person with anxiety and/or depression makes an appointment with the doctor, it’s very important that they book a longer or double appointment, so they can make the most of the consultation and not feel rushed. This also gives the doctor plenty of time to discuss the situation and avoids having to book a second appointment.

What to expect

Another reason for booking a longer appointment is to allow time for the GP to do a thorough assessment and, if necessary, to develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan. This is a plan designed to enable the GP to manage and treat the mental health condition. The GP may refer the person to another health professional such as a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist to provide psychological treatment. They would then report back to the GP on the person’s progress after treatment.

Under this system, a person with a mental health condition like anxiety or depression can claim a Medicare benefit (rebate) for up to 10 individual consultations and/or 10 group sessions in any one calendar year. While some health professionals will bulk bill, there may be out-of-pocket expenses
with others, so it’s important to ask about charges prior to commencement of treatment.

For more information about the cost of getting treatment for anxiety and depression see Getting help – How much does it cost?

How can you be involved in the consultation? 

It’s a good idea for you and the person you support to consider how you would both like to be involved in the consultation with the GP and the ongoing treatment process. It can be useful to view this as a partnership where together you both agree to seek effective treatment and work towards recovery.

Your involvement at this early stage can be vital in helping them to get effective treatment as early as possible – as well as maintaining momentum during ongoing treatment.

It’s worth discussing both your involvement in the consultations with health professionals and the overall treatment plan. You may want to discuss and agree on what information you, as the support person, are able to contribute to the session, and if they want you to attend parts of the consultations.

Some people have found it helpful to have their support person present at the first part of the session to help give the health professional information about how the person has been. This is particularly useful when the person with the condition finds it hard to express how they have been.

Other support people, however, have talked about the importance of being involved at the end of the session, in order to find out the best way to support the person between appointments.

It’s important not to undermine the person who has the mental health condition. While you may be eager to get treatment underway as soon as possible, remember the person with the condition needs to feel that they are in control and is taking responsibility for their own treatment as well. If the person is not actively involved in this way, they may feel that you are taking over and there is a risk that they may withdraw from you and further treatment.


Spend time thinking about the person’s experiences and the situation

Once you’ve made the appointment, spend some time together thinking about what the person you support has been experiencing. It may be helpful to write down their experiences; add your experiences too, as well as those of family members and friends who have been affected.

Having a list will be a good prompt during the appointment and an excellent way to keep things on track if either of you becomes upset or loses your way. Many people find it helpful to take along their completed anxiety and depression checklist (K10) to begin the conversation. 

Commit to the consultation

Before the appointment, try to agree that you’ll both try to make the most of it. You may discuss how you will tell the doctor about the symptoms and difficulties. It will be helpful to remember that you are both committed to helping the person become well again and that you are there to support them towards recovery.

Prepare for the consultation

When you go to the doctor, it’s helpful to take a list of things you’re concerned about, including:

  • what doesn’t seem right
  • a completed anxiety and depression checklist
  • a description of the relevant behaviour
  • any concerns you may have
  • how the person is feeling
  • any questions you both may have.

The more accurate the information you provide, the better and more precise the assessment by the doctor will be. Hiding facts, behaviour and issues because of embarrassment, fear or in defence of the person you support will only delay the assessment and in turn delay the recovery. It may also be beneficial to read about anxiety and/or depression, along with available treatments so you will have some idea about what may be suggested. Also, let the doctor know if you will need interpreting services.

On the day

Some support people say that it’s a good idea to be prepared for resistance or procrastination from the person with anxiety and/or depression. On the day of the appointment, they may try to convince you that they are well and there is no need to see the GP. (“See, I am okay today.”) You can try to explain, that from what you have read, this may be part of anxiety/depression – good days and bad days – and by seeing the GP today, you can all work towards having many more good days in the future.

The person you support may not want to go to the appointment because of distress, apprehension, fear, worry or embarrassment. They may be concerned they won’t be able to ‘hold it together’ during the consultation with the GP. You can put the person at ease by acknowledging that those feelings are natural and may be associated with the condition – and the GP will have seen these symptoms which are common to these conditions many times before in other people. Reassure the person that visiting the GP is an important step and you’re there to support them.

If the person refuses support

Some support people say they experienced great difficulty and frustration when trying to get the person to acknowledge that support was needed. The person may deny they have a problem or the person may believe that things aren’t very bad and they will improve on their own, with time, and without professional support.

As with most health conditions, it’s important to have the problem assessed and if necessary, get the appropriate treatment as soon as possible. If the person denies that anything is wrong, this may be because of feelings of embarrassment or shame about the possibility they are experiencing a mental health condition. Alternatively, the person may dread having to discuss their thoughts and feelings with the doctor or may be unaware of their unusual behaviour.

In these instances, some support people have solved the problem by focusing on particular physical symptoms the person is experiencing such as sleeping problems, change in appetite or lack of energy.

The person may find it easier to discuss physical symptoms openly with the doctor at first, and then lead onto the emotional symptoms being experienced.

If this doesn’t work and the person is still refusing to seek support, you may have to accept that there is only so much that you can do, and that this may not yet be the right time for the person to get support. This is also true of other conditions where people won’t seek support until it gets to the stage when they can no longer tolerate the symptoms or manage from day to day.

If this is the case, while you need to continue being supportive, all you can do is make the information available and be open to discuss things when the person is ready. Meanwhile, you need to look after yourself. Be aware that there’s a tendency for supporters to readjust their lives around the condition and in doing so, they may inadvertently prolong the period that the person with the condition denies needing support.

Seeking a second opinion

While it’s not always easy to talk about personal issues or feelings, sometimes it is made more difficult if the person you support feels the health professional can’t relate to their story – or if they don't have confidence in the health professional’s ability to deal with the problem. It may take time to find the right health professional, but it’s important to keep looking until you’re satisfied the person you support is getting the right support.

If you are seeking a second opinion from a GP, it’s important to note that a person is eligible for only one GP Mental Health Treatment Plan within a 12 month period for which Medicare benefits (rebates) can be claimed. It is advisable to take a copy of the previous plan to the new GP for review, or if that isn’t possible, to give the new GP your permission to obtain a copy from your previous GP.


“You have a right to be happy with the treatment you receive.”



How can I access information if I'm supporting someone with a mental health condition?

Obtaining information from the health professional about the person who is receiving support and care can be a complex issue. There is a delicate balance between the individual’s right to confidentiality, the need to ensure the practitioner has adequate and accurate information about the person’s condition, and your need to access information that is relevant to your role as the primary support person.

Privacy and confidentiality

Privacy and confidentiality legislation means that you're not always entitled to give or receive information and you may be excluded from treatment plans and discussions because of this. However, if the person receiving treatment consents, you may be given access to information and be permitted to provide input.

Clearly, this situation has many implications. As a support person, if you live with someone with anxiety and/or depression, it can become very difficult to manage day-to-day issues if you’re not fully aware of the state of the person’s mental health, the treatment and any issues that would impact on the supporting role.

This situation can be become worse if the condition becomes more severe and you, as the supporter, are unaware of important information about the individual’s treatment. For example, support people often talk about the importance of understanding what treatments have been decided upon, so they know what to expect and if the person does become particularly distressed, they will have some idea of what is happening, what to do, and who to contact.

Communicating with health professionals

Communicating with health professionals can help ensure that you are kept informed. Find out the best way to contact them, including when to call and how to reach them in an emergency.

Some health professionals may be happy for you to email your questions or to make a separate time for you to talk with them about your concerns.

Many health professionals welcome talking to the support person. However, some mental health professionals may be unwilling to provide information about the treatment of the person you support, even with their consent. In some cases, supporters aren’t given access to information about the medications being taken by the person they support or their potential side-effects.

Sometimes you may be upset when you need to contact the treating health professional, but it’s helpful to remember that they’re also trying to help the person you support. Being angry and blaming them for what has happened will not solve the problem. Trying to work together as a team with the health professional can be more helpful and productive.

Be proactive

Be persistent in trying to access information. This will benefit both of you. Be proactive about taking part in the consultation. No matter which part of the consultation you attend, it will be helpful to show your support and to make the most of the opportunity to ask questions and provide relevant information. 


“The more you understand the situation, the more it gives you strength.”


You have a crucial role in respecting and helping the person you support, so you need to feel confident about understanding the condition, the treatment, its impact and overall, what to expect.

Keeping up the momentum

You’ve made it to the first appointment and sought diagnosis and treatment. However, it’s important to be realistic and acknowledge this is the beginning of the recovery process, not the end.

Educate yourself

There may be times when everything seems overwhelming and when the symptoms, behaviour and challenges seem relentless. 

One way to manage these feelings is to increase your knowledge about what is happening, why it’s happening and where you can go from here.

Educate yourself with good quality, evidence-based information about and anxiety and depression on this website, or by contacting the beyondblue Support Service. You can also visit or contact Carers Australia for more information. There are many programs that you can attend and resources that you can read.

Investigate

It will benefit you to understand the condition, its progression, treatment optionsmedications, side-effects and the mental health system. You may feel more informed and in control of what’s happening if you know about treatment options. It may also be useful to learn about the difference between psychologistssocial workersoccupational therapistspsychiatrists, public hospitals or mental health units, specialist community services, crisis assessment teams or acute treatment teams, telephone-based and online services. It sounds like there is a great deal to learn and you may feel as though you have learned enough, but the information you gather along the way may prove to be helpful to you and the person you support.

As a support person, it’s important to look after yourself as well. There are many resources and programs available to help and support you:


“Having a diagnosis made me feel a little bit better because at least now we know what we’re dealing with. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t happen the year before; it would have saved a lot of suffering and heartache.”


Making the right decisions

Sometimes, the person may say they are better. They feel well and no longer in need of medication or sessions with the health professional. It’s important to remind the person that it’s the health professional who will help to make these decisions – and although treatment may certainly be improving the person’s condition, recovering may take time. The person needs to be as stable as possible before making any changes to the treatment plan. Any adjustment to medication should be made by the GP or treating team. The person should never adjust their medication without consulting a doctor. If a person suddenly stops taking certain medications, it can cause withdrawal symptoms which can be unpleasant and difficult to manage.

Conversations and keeping a record

An important part of your relationship may be to talk about what is happening and how the person you support is progressing – also, how you’re working together as a team. The person may need to know that you are confident and understand what’s happening. One way to record how things are going is to write notes in a diary or journal every day about progress, issues and/or symptoms.

Some people supporting someone with a mental health condition say they’ve used a rating system where both the supporter and the person with anxiety and/or depression rate how they were on that day. It may be as simple as giving a score out of 10 – with one being a bad day and 10 being excellent.

You may want to devise your own rating system, but either way, it will be a useful record of improvements and a guide as to what you both see as a good or not-so-good day. You’ll be able to reflect on the days when things ran smoothly and work towards having more of those days. It will also be a handy tool to have when there’s a discrepancy between your ratings. You may want to talk about why you saw things differently.

Another constructive strategy used by many support people is to record the schedule of medications and to track, list and discuss side-effects. This will be very helpful for the doctor who may not be able to observe all of the side-effects during a consultation.

Broaden the focus of your conversations

It’s important to talk about other things besides the mental health condition, so it doesn’t become the focal point of your life and relationship. Talk about things that are happening, both in your world and more broadly. The person you support may not be interested or able to engage completely with this, but it’s essential that they have some awareness of other things happening in the family or the broader community.

You may try to encourage the person to participate in a small activity each day – a short walk, helping to prepare a meal, reading or listening to music.

It can be hard to persevere when the person you support is not able to get much enjoyment or pleasure from anything, but it can be helpful.