About mental health services for pre-teens and teenagers
Mental health services generally fall into the following categories:
- Local, state and Australian government-funded services – you usually won’t have to pay for these. Examples include services at community health centres, hospital-based services, and child and adolescent mental health services.
- Not-for-profit services and programs – these are mostly funded by government and might be free or partly subsidised. They include services run by non-government organisations like Beyond Blue and Headspace.
- Private services and programs – you have to pay for these in full. Examples include private psychologists, counsellors and online or telehealth services.
There might be several of these options in your local area.
Our article on mental health professionals for pre-teens and teenagers can help you understand who does what in these services – and how they can help your child. And our guide to teens mental health services across Australia has contact details and links for services in your state or territory.
Financial support for mental health services for pre-teens and teenagers
If your child has an assessed mental health condition like anxiety or depression, your child might be able to get Medicare rebates for up to 20 mental health sessions from psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists each calendar year.
To get these rebates, your child will need a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP (this covers the 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.
There are usually extra costs after the rebate.
Choosing mental health services for teenagers
Different mental health services for teenagers might offer different mental health treatments or therapies.
When you and your child start exploring services, it helps to ask as many questions as you can. For example, you can ask about:
- how the service can help your child
- what your child can get from the service
- when you can expect to get the help your child needs.
It’s a good idea to write down questions as you think of them, so you don’t forget them.
Here are specific questions you could ask:
- What kind of therapy or treatment will my child get – individual clinical therapy sessions or group programs?
- Where will the treatment be provided – in private rooms, in the hospital, at a clinic, at a community centre or at school?
- Are telehealth appointments an option, either by video or phone call?
- How long are the sessions, and how often will you see my child?
- Will you see my child alone, or can I also attend sometimes?
You can also ask about the professional reputation of services. You can contact services directly to ask these questions, or ask your GP:
- Does the service have a good reputation for working with young people and families and providing a good-quality service?
- Does the service meet the national standards in mental health services? These standards describe the level of care you can expect from Australian health service organisations, including government, non-government and private services.
- Do staff at the service have appropriate training and qualifications? Are they members of professional bodies? For example, a psychiatrist must be accredited by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to work as a psychiatrist.
There are some important practical issues too:
- How much does the service charge?
- Are the service fees covered by Medicare?
- Does the service charge extra for writing reports or completing specialised assessments?
- What days and times is the service open?
- How long does it take to get an appointment, and is there a waiting list?
- What the service’s policy on cancelling appointments?
- What’s the best way to get to the service – car or public transport? Is there a car park?
If you have time, try to meet with services face to face, rather than over the phone. You can get a better feeling about services this way, and you can also get more information. It’s OK to talk to the service several times until your questions have been answered. And for other perspectives on services, you can ask friends, family or your child’s school about their experiences.
Making decisions about mental health services for pre-teens and teenagers
The right mental health service for your child will be the one that best meets your child’s and family’s particular needs.
When you’ve gathered all your information about services, you can think about the:
- comparison between reputations and accreditations of different services – do any services stand out?
- interactions you’ve had with different services
- personal and practical benefits offered by different services
- financial costs of different services
- match between your child’s needs and the programs offered by different services.
You could draw up a list of pros and cons to help you decide which service is right for your child. It’s important to talk about the pros and cons with your child and acknowledge your child’s thoughts and feelings about services.
In some cases, you could ask to arrange a trial appointment at the service. This is a bit like a job interview – it can help you work out whether you’ll be able to have a good relationship. Sometimes it takes a few attempts before you find the right fit.
Take time finding what’s right for your child and family. A good relationship with the health professional has a big effect on how well mental health treatment is likely to work for your child.