Understanding mental health services language

The language that you’ll hear in the teenage mental health services system can be a bit confusing at first. Here’s a quick guide to some of the terms you’ll come across most often.

Therapies – or interventions – are programs or sessions aimed at managing and improving your teenage child’s mental health and wellbeing.

Treatments cover both therapies and medication aimed at managing and improving your child’s mental health and wellbeing.

Services – or service providers – are the people and organisations that offer these therapies and other supports for your child and family. Services often offer a wide range of interventions, therapies and support programs.

Services generally fall into the following categories:

  • local, state and Australian government services, which you usually won’t have to pay for
  • not-for-profit services and programs, which are mostly funded by government and might be free or partly subsidised
  • private services and programs, which you have to pay for in full.

Our article on mental health professionals working with teenagers can help you understand who does what in the system – and how they can help your child.

Financial support for mental health services for teenagers

If your child has an assessed mental health condition like anxiety or depression, he might be able to get Medicare rebates for up to 10 mental health service sessions from psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists each calendar year.

To get these rebates, your child will need a mental health care plan from a GP (this covers what services your child needs and the goals of the treatment), or a referral from a psychiatrist or paediatrician. It doesn’t matter how old your child is.

Navigating the system: tips

If you’re having appointments with many different services, it’s easy to get swamped by information. It can help if you come up with a way of organising it all.

It can be useful to start a folder for notes and comments about progress, cards and brochures, and records of appointments. You might also want to keep lists of terms, words or acronyms, websites and books that you’ve found useful.

This type of information can be stored in a notebook or computer file, or a smartphone app.

You might want to involve your child in this process. This can give her a sense of empowerment and responsibility for her own recovery and treatment.

Tips from parents
Parents of teenagers who have been through the mental health system have found that it really helps to:

  • be open to a variety of approaches and a combination of treatments
  • take your time finding what’s right for your child and family
  • be prepared to change things along the way, as your child grows and develops and your preferences and service opportunities change
  • keep trying and bouncing back – don’t let setbacks get you down
  • talk with family and friends or others in a similar situation
  • take things one step at a time – this can help you stay focused and relaxed when you’re making decisions about the next stage in your child’s treatment
  • accept that some decisions will be just right, and others might need to be changed – this is OK
  • talk with your child about how he feels he’s going with accessing services and professionals.

Australia-wide mental health contacts for teenagers

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
These are government-run services throughout Australia. They provide assessment and treatment for children and young people under 18 years who are experiencing mental health problems. In some areas CAMHS will see people only up to 15 years of age, whereas in other areas CAMHS have been extended to children and young people aged 0-25 years.

This is a confidential, free, anonymous, secure online space where young people aged 12-25 years can chat, email or speak with qualified youth mental health professionals.

This is the national youth mental health foundation. It’s for young people aged 12-25 years who are going through a tough time. There are headspace centres all around Australia.

Kids Helpline
This is a free, confidential telephone counselling service for young people aged 5-25 years. It also offers webchat and email counselling.

Reach Out
This is an online youth mental health service. It provides practical tools, forums and information in a safe and anonymous online environment.

Youth Beyond Blue
This is an online youth mental health service. It has online chat and a 24-hour phone counselling line.

State and territory mental health contacts for teenagers

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia


Each health region in Victoria has its own 24-hour triage phone number. To get the number for your area, go to Victorian Government Health Information – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.  Choose your area from the maps on the right of the page.

Western Australia