Middle-aged woman sitting at her computer in her living room
Middle-aged woman sitting at her computer in her living room

Telehealth and mental health care – a GP’s perspective

The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for people with a pre-existing mental health condition and also those experiencing mental health concerns for the first time. Beyond Blue’s Lead Clinical Advisor, Dr Grant Blashki, says it’s important you seek support when you need it – and a telehealth appointment with your GP is a great place to start.

As a GP, I’ve seen the extra pressure the pandemic has put on people’s mental wellbeing, from worrying about contracting the virus, to concerns over job losses, financial pressures, social isolation, and intense home environments.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve also noticed that people are reluctant to visit their clinic.

Fortunately, in response to COVID-19, Medicare-subsidised telehealth services have been significantly expanded, which means people can consult their GP for advice and to obtain a mental health care plan via telehealth, with many GPs offering phone or video-chat consultations.

People with existing mental health care plans

It is more important than ever to look after your mental health and following your mental health care plan is one way you can do this.

It’s important to prevent relapses of conditions like depression and anxiety. I often talk with my patients about spotting the early signs and having preventative processes in place.

People seeking support for the first time

Many people throughout Australia see their GP for mental health concerns – they are a great place to start when it comes to seeking support (no matter how large or small it seems, and whether it’s COVID-19 related or not).

Whether you choose to do so in person or via a video or phone consultation, they can help you find the right treatment, including discussing free options, referring you to other professionals and creating a mental health plan.

What is a GP mental health plan?

A GP mental health plan involves a systematic assessment by your GP of your mental health and entitles you to be referred to six Medicare-subsidised psychological consultations, with the possibility of four more after a review.

It also involves finding a good team of mental health professionals, usually including a psychologist.

How to arrange your GP mental health plan via telehealth

Contact your regular clinic to find out if your doctor is providing telehealth consultations. GPs have been enthusiastic about this initiative so there’s a good chance they are.

If you don’t have a regular GP, ask the receptionist if there’s a doctor at the clinic with a strong interest in mental health care.

What to expect

A longer consultation. If it’s your first time discussing your mental health, or you have complex needs, it’s best to request a longer consultation at the time of booking, so you and your doctor can make a detailed plan without feeling rushed.

A wellbeing survey. All GP mental health care plans involve a survey (called a psychometric tool), usually involving 10 or so short questions about your recent thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Treatment recommendations. Your GP will help you put together a personalised management plan which may include lifestyle changes, psychological approaches and, where necessary, medications. Beyond Blue has recently launched two publications which review the latest evidence for a broad range of treatments for anxiety and depression.

Download A guide for what works for anxiety.

Download A guide for what works for depression.

Referrals. Your GP is likely to be able to recommend a mental health professional that might suit your needs, if you don’t already have one. They might also point you to a range of online resources such as Head to Health, moodgym or myCompass.

Discussion. You can also expect to have a chat with your GP about any symptoms you may be experiencing like anxiety, lowered mood, or sleep problems and they’ll also check in as to your general mood and how you’re managing day-to-day life.

Safety planning. Your doctor will want to know that you’re safe, which includes checking if you’ve had symptoms such as suicidal thoughts. If you have, they'll help you develop a safety plan.

Beyond Blue has a free suicide prevention safety planning app called Beyond Now – it’s a helpful tool for people experiencing these sorts of feelings.

Where to from there?

In addition to providing six Medicare-subsidised psychological consultations, your mental health plan might include lifestyle changes such as improving your routine and ensuring you maintain your physical health, eat healthily and connect with others. You may also learn some meditation or relaxation exercises.

After the first six sessions with your chosen mental health professional, you can revisit your GP for a mental health review. They’ll assess your progress and, as required, refer you for four more Medicare-subsidised sessions.

Get the support you need

In challenging times, it’s important people get the support they need. We’re fortunate in Australia to have measures in place to help people look after their mental health.

If you need support, book an appointment with your GP to discuss your plan and ensure you’re looking after yourself.

Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic is going to cause many of us a considerable amount of stress and worry. Find out how much worry is too much.

You can learn about consulting a mental health professional via telehealth.

Read Nathan’s story of adapting to telehealth sessions with his psychologist.


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