How your GP can help
Your doctor (GP) is often a good place to start for most mental health issues, as they can make a mental health assessment, create a mental health treatment plan, refer you to a suitable mental health professional and/or discuss treatment options, including medication. 1
Attending a GP practice on a regular basis is important for your physical and mental health. The more comfortable you are with your GP, the easier it will be to talk with them about your health issues and needs. It will also allow your GP to build detailed medical history for you. 2
It's important to find the right GP for you - someone who you feel comfortable speaking with so that they can provide you with the best possible support.
If you don't have a regular GP, or you would prefer to see a different GP to your usual doctor, it is worth spending time to find a GP who can meet your needs.
GP's have certain areas of practise that interest them, including mental health.3 To find a GP that has a special interest in mental health, visit the practice website and look for doctors profiles that describe their specific interests and skills.
Alternatively, you can ring the practice's reception and ask if any of the GPs have a specific interest in mental health. They should be able to provide advice on which GP will be the most helpful in assisting with your concerns.
Before making a decision, you may want to call the practice to ask:
- When is the practice open?
- Is the practice easy to get to? Is it close to public transport, or is there reasonable car parking nearby?
- How long can it take to see a doctor?
- What fees are payable? Does the practice bulk bill?
- Are both male and female doctors available? You may prefer to see a male or female GP for certain health issues.
- Do any of the doctors speak languages other than English? 2
For more information on finding a GP that can help with mental health issues visit Beyond Blue.
When you book your first visit, request a 30 minute or ‘long’ appointment. This will mean you have extra time to talk with your GP about what is happening for you and the next steps to finding support without feeling rushed.
Preparing for your GP appointment
Being prepared for your appointment can assist your GP in getting all the information they need, and will also ensure you discuss all your concerns and find out everything you want to know.
Before you go to your appointment:
- Think about the reasons you are visiting the GP and make a list of the key points you would like to discuss and any questions you would like to ask.
- If you are able to, find out what you can about your family’s medical history as this can help your GP to identify the health issue you are experiencing.
- If you have not seen this GP before, take note of any medications you are currently using so you can tell the GP what they are. 2
During your appointment
Start by describing:
- What you are experiencing. Be honest with your GP about what your concerns are - they are there to help, not to judge you.
- If there is anything you think might have triggered what is happening.
How long it has been going on for.
- How it is affecting your everyday life.
- Any treatment you are having or medications you are using.
Your GP will work with you to determine what support is best for you. This could include:
- Providing access to self-help resources, support groups, online support and referrals to community services.
- Setting up a Mental Health Treatment Plan (often called a Mental Health Care Plan). 4
A mental health treatment plan lets you claim a Medicare rebate for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional each calendar year. To start with, your doctor can refer you for up to six sessions at a time. If you need more, they can refer you for further sessions. 4
Your health information and treatment plan will be private. Doctors can’t share your information unless you agree to it. 4
Health professionals are allowed to determine their own fees. This means that if the cost of the appointment is more than the Medicare rebate you will have to pay the gap between the rebate and what they charge for their services. When booking your appointment with the mental health professional, ask how much you’ll pay and how much will be covered by Medicare. If they bulk bill, you won’t have to pay anything. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to get some money back. You can check with your insurer. 4
More information about bulk billing is below.
Anyone who is registered with Medicare and has a Medicare card can access a bulk billing GP. If you are not enrolled with Medicare, you can complete an enrolment form online or visit your nearest Medicare office.
Not all GPs bulk bill, so make sure you ask when you book your appointment. If your doctor bulk bills, Medicare will cover the cost of the appointment. If your GP doesn’t bulk bill, you’ll need to pay either:
- the full cost; or
- the difference between what the GP practice charges and what Medicare covers.
If you pay the full cost, you can make a claim for the amount Medicare covers. Your GP practice can also make a claim on your behalf. 4 Make sure you ask them when you pay for your appointment.
Where to find your nearest bulk billing GP
To find a GP that bulk bills, use the 'Find a Health Service' tool on the healthdirect website.
It’s important that you feel comfortable discussing your concerns and how you are feeling with your GP or other mental health professional.
If you don’t feel that you get on well with your health professional or that your concerns are not being addressed, it is important that you make an appointment with another GP. You might find that you feel more comfortable to discuss your concerns more openly with another GP or they may consider an alternative treatment plan for you.
- WA Primary Health Alliance [Internet]. Australia: WA Primary Health Alliance. About primary mental health care. Available from: https://www.wapha.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/FS2_Primary-Mental-Health-Care.pdf
- Department of Health. Healthy WA [Internet]. GP’s. Available from https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/F_I/GPs
- Black Dog Institute [Internet]. Finding a mental health friendly doctor. Available from: 2-findingamentalhealthfriendlydoctor.pdf (blackdoginstitute.org.au)
- Australian Government [Internet]. Mental health care and Medicare. Available from https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/mental-health-care-and-medicare?context=60092.