Breaking Barriers: How to Overcome Common Challenges in Accessing Mental Health Care

by LukeAdmin

by Alexandra Wilson (AMHSW; CSW; MAASW; BSW Usyd)

Getting good quality and effective mental health treatment can be a struggle! Barriers to treatment stop people from feeling better and inevitably can make mental health issues harder to treat if not addressed early on.

Thankfully there are a range of ways to get help these days. Here are some common barriers to accessing treatment and some tips to getting un–stuck!

I don’t have time
Since the Covid pandemic, there are more online and Telehealth mental health services than ever. You can have therapy in the comfort of your own home whenever it suits you!

TIPS: Contact your mental health provider of choice and ask if they can do Telehealth (online or phone) sessions instead of face–to–face.

If you work full time, consider using your lunch break to log on to a session from a private area, or book in a time on
a rostered day off.

Some workplaces will also allow you time away from work for medical appointments, which includes therapy sessions. If you have a good relationship with your boss, ask them if this would
be possible.

There are also great therapy programs around that are partially or fully self–directed. This allows you to access the materials when it suits you. Just make sure whoever is running the program has an appropriate level of experience and credentials.

Some examples of great self directed and semi–self–directed programs are:

I can’t afford it
Good therapy costs money. You should find the best therapist for your particular issue, rather than looking for the cheapest!

But what if money is tight…? Consider the cost of NOT getting mental health treatment for a moment.

Are you performing your best at work? Is your sleep and physical health suffering? How about your relationships with others and your relationship with yourself?

Considering how our mental health affects every other part of our lives, it’s worth investing in!

TIPS: Contact your mental health professional of choice and get information about their fees.

Ask about whether rebates might apply to your sessions, with some providers you can get a good portion of your session fees paid back to you by Medicare (with a GP referral). Some private health funds also offer session rebates, ask your fund what they can do.

There are other schemes that help with the cost of therapy, such as NSW Victims Services. If you have ever been the victim of a crime that has impacted your mental health, you may be eligible for 100% funded sessions through this program –
Have a good look at your budget and see where you could cut back – consider, what is the cost of not treating your mental health?

Previous bad experiences
If we’ve had a bad experience with therapy in the past, it can discourage us from getting help in the future. Sometimes it’s not a good personality ‘click’ with a therapist, or sometimes we feel it just didn’t help.

TIPS: If you have had previous negative experiences of seeking help, DON’T GIVE UP!

Ask friend and family for recommendations of therapists they know of and have had good experiences with.

Search for a therapist who specialises in the issue you are most struggling with.

Check out the websites and profiles of therapists in your area – do you resonate with their values? Have they treated people with your problem before?

I don’t know where to go
Negotiating the maze of mental health services in Australia can be very confusing. What’s the difference between the public mental health services and private services? What qualifications should I look for in a therapist? How do I book in – do I just call?

TIPS: Your GP is a great place to start. They can get you started in the process by providing you a referral for therapy. They may also be able to recommend a therapist who they have worked with before and had good feedback on.

Ask family and friends for recommendations – you’d be surprised how many people access therapy, but you don’t know until you ask!

Public mental health services are reserved for more acute situations where people need a lot of contact and support. They can be contacted via the Central Coast Mental Health Access Line for advice and support on 1800 011 511 (24hrs).

If your issues are low or moderate in severity (not requiring hospitalisation), then your best bet are private counselling practices and professionals in your area.

There are many different titles of mental health professionals, including ‘counsellor’, ‘psychologist’, clinical psychologist, ‘accredited mental health social worker’. When you are researching a provider, check for information on their formal qualifications.

More qualifications doesn’t necessarily mean a better experience – but you do want to know whoever you see has done formal study of some kind and has an overseeing professional body approving their practice.

I’m worried about confidentiality
What if I see someone in the waiting room that I know? What if someone finds out I’m seeing a therapist?

TIPS: It’s estimates 50% of people in Australia will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime – so you are not alone.

Mental health professionals are governed by law to protect the confidentiality of their patients – ask when you book an appointment about their privacy policies.

Telehealth options are also a great idea if you are worried about going to a physical office.

I can talk to friends, it’s the same as therapy.
Good therapy is not at all like a chat with a friend! It’s a place where you can explore your experiences, thoughts and feelings without feeling guilty you are dominating the conversation too much! Also, your therapist doesn’t respond like a friend!

TIPS: Be clear about what you want to get out of therapy, and communicate that to your therapist.

Want practical skills and strategies to reduce anxiety? Want to know how to start feeling better about yourself? Want help with relationships?

Let your therapist know at your first appointment what you would like to get out of the process so they can provide what’s most helpful for you.

It won’t help anyway (hopelessness)
Hopelessness can be a big barrier to accessing help, and can leave someone feeling really stuck in their situation.

TIPS: Have a think about what life will be like in a year from now if you do nothing different – is that a pleasant or unpleasant picture? Remember that finding the right therapist and the right type of treatment can take trial and error.

Find a therapist who has experience working with hopelessness – there are specific types of therapy that can help (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy).

Alexandra (Alex) Wilson holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Sydney (2003) and is the owner of Mindful Recovery Services. Mindful Recovery Services is a private practice providing psychological treatment and support for adolescents and adults. Alex is passionate about dispelling myths about mental illness and is highly skilled in dialectical behavioural therapy. She is an experienced public speaker and provides consultation to other professionals on managing difficult behaviours in teens. Alex lives on the NSW Central Coast with her partner, 2 young boys, and a cheeky puppy named Axel.

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