General Practitioners (GPs) are medical doctors who have completed extra training in general practice. This means they have a broad knowledge of health issues and are qualified to treat people of all ages. Your GP is a good place to start if you are experiencing changes to your physical or mental health and well-being. They can coordinate your health care and look after you long-term.
If you have concerns about your mental health, your GP can make an assessment and, if necessary, create a mental health treatment plan, refer you to mental health professionals, prescribe and monitor medications and manage all of your ongoing health needs.
Your GP can see you at their practice or can treat you over the phone or internet. Some GPs also offer home visits or care for people who are living in residential care facilities.
If you have a sudden and serious injury or illness, call an ambulance on triple zero (000) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
How your GP can help
Your GP will listen to your concerns and suggest options for supporting your mental health. They might suggest you see another health professional and they can arrange a referral for this. They may even create a mental health treatment plan with you which will outline the type of support and treatment your GP feels you would benefit from and what you and your GP agree to.
If you see several different health professionals, your GP can coordinate your care. Your GP might also discuss medications and can provide you with some prescriptions. They will also investigate your general physical health and either rule out or offer suggestions for managing any other medical conditions.
Choosing a GP
If you have a GP you’ve been seeing for a while and are happy with them, that is great. If you’re not happy with your GP, or not happy with how discussions about your mental health went with them, it’s okay to look for another GP to talk to about this. It is really important to find a GP you are comfortable talking with so you can get the best possible support.
If you don’t yet have a regular GP, it’s a good idea to take the time to find one.
You might want to look for a GP who has a special interest in mental health. Most GP practices have a website which gives information about their doctors’ particular interests. Otherwise, you could phone the practice and ask the receptionist if any of the GPs have a special interest in mental health.
To find a new GP, make an appointment to visit one for a check-up to see if you like them. It’s okay to visit a few GPs and GP practices until you find the right one for you.
Once you find a GP you like, it’s a good idea to stick with that person, as much as possible. The more comfortable and familiar you are with your GP, the easier it will be to talk to them about personal topics, and the easier it will be for your GP to monitor your health issues and needs long-term.
Things to consider when choosing a GP:
- Is it easy to get in to see them?
- How much does it cost? Do they bulk bill? (see below)
- Do I want a doctor of a specific gender or sexuality? What GPs are available at this practice?
- Do I need someone who speaks a language other than English? Is there anyone who speaks my language at this practice?
If you need help finding a GP in your area try Health Direct. Health Direct allows you to search for a health service by location and preference which can help you to find a service that bulk bills or offers telehealth services.
What can I expect?
When you see a GP for mental health concerns, they will want to gather as much information as possible to help you. They will ask questions to find out what you are experiencing and what is concerning you. They may ask about your home life, social life, work, and any current or past mental or physical health concerns. They may want you to get a blood test. After gathering information, your GP will explain your options, which might include referrals to other services, suggestions for improving your wellbeing or taking medication.
It may take more than one appointment to get all the information together and decide on a course of action. Booking a longer consultation will give your GP the time you both need to discuss what you are experiencing.
If you are going to see another health professional, your GP can write a ‘mental health treatment plan’ for you.
Mental health treatment plan:
If your GP completes a mental health treatment plan with you, you will be able to claim some treatment options through Medicare. Your GP will provide an initial referral of six sessions to begin with, and then ask to meet with you to review your treatment. If needed, you will be able to access Medicare rebates for up to twenty sessions with a mental health professional per year. Examples of health professional available through a treatment plan include specific psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.
Things to consider after your appointment:
- Did they listen to me?
- Could I talk honestly and openly to them?
- Did I feel comfortable with them?
- Was it easy to get there and get an appointment?
- Do they offer home visits or telehealth services?
How much does it cost to see a GP?
If you have a Medicare card, Medicare will pay the first $38.75 of your GP fee.
Some GPs bulk bill, which means they only charge $38.75 for a standard visit and you will not have to pay any extra. However, some GPs charge more than the Medicare rebate, which means you will have to pay the difference (or, the gap). For example, if your GP charges $60 for a standard visit, Medicare will pay $38.75 and you will have to pay $21.25.
If you have a regular GP, they may offer to speak to you by telephone or video link. This service is called telehealth and your GP may bulk bill you for this or may charge a higher fee. When making a face-to-face appointment or telehealth appointment, ask how much the GP will charge.
What should I ask my GP?
Mental health and psychological distress are difficult topics to talk about but talking to your GP and asking them questions will help you make the best decisions about your mental health care. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to tell the GP and what to ask, especially when you are feeling vulnerable. Writing down key information and preparing a list of questions to ask before you go to your appointment can help make this easier.
Why do you think this is happening?
What do you think are the best options for me?
What can I do to help myself?
What resources or websites do you recommend?
When do you think I will feel better?
- Use the healthdirect Service Finder to find a GP near you
- If you need help after hours but your GP does not offer an after-hours service, call the healthdirect after-hours GP helpline on 1800 022 222. A registered nurse will assess you and may arrange for a GP to call you. For more information, go to Health Direct.
- Ask family, friends or neighbours for recommendations to help you find the right GP
- When you make your GP appointment, consider booking a double appointment so you and the GP don’t feel rushed and you have plenty of time to talk