There’re variety of mental health professionals. And I’ll give a description of who they are and give a sense of how they can be accessed.
So the first thing is that mental health professionals can be divided into half a dozen types of categories. One is those that are medically trained such as psychiatrists. Then you have psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and occupational therapists, who have mental health experience. So broadly, each of the mental health professionals have differing skills and differing areas that they focus on. For example, at one end, you have psychologists who typically will provide psychological treatments, be it psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy, or group therapy. A psychiatrist for example, may have many of those skills but also has the ability to prescribe medicines, to treat psychiatric illness such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety medication.
Accessing mental health professionals can be via several means. So in Australia, through Medicare, your GP can refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychologist or indeed social workers that are in private practise. The other way that mental health professionals are accessed is via the public sector, which is community mental health teams. In fact, every part of Australia has a mental health team which often operates 24 hours a day, which can provide support and assessment to people with mental health problems. Those teams are typically multidisciplinary in nature, i.e. they have lots of different mental health professionals as part of it. The other type of service where one can access mental health professionals is via telephone-based services, such as Beyond Blue, which runs telephone-based counselling services for anxiety and depression.
And then for young people, there’s a national network of mental health services called headspace, which does assess young adults and adolescents with mental health problems.
So in essence, we have lots of professionals in this country, lots of services both private and public, and access generally is reasonably easy, although getting an appointment at times could prove quite difficult.
Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney