BY CAMILLA HERBIG
Almost daily we hear news reports about the increasing cost of living or state of the economy, and it can feel quite overwhelming.
Numerous reports recently have found many Australians are sacrificing healthcare, medications and specialist appointments as household budgets tighten and fewer GPs offer bulk billing.
Additionally, decisions impacting healthy lifestyles can also be impacted, such as whether to retain a gym membership or afford to buy fresh and healthy foods.
While we recognise there are costs involved with a number of services and often waiting times, there are still things we can proactively do to support good mental health and services available which are free or low cost.
Let’s take a look at some of the options available.
Additional to the options listed below, there are many other websites, helplines, apps and specialised counselling services available depending on the needs of the person. Find out more via the RAMHP fact sheets, NSW Health website or Head to Health website.
There are things we can build into our everyday routine which help us to cope with the stresses of life, and do not have to be extravagant or costly. Some existing strategies may be able to be swapped to low cost or free alternatives.
Consider what helps you to cope day to day – is it going for a walk or spending time outdoors getting fresh air, playing with the kids or pets, listening to music or podcasts, borrowing a book from the library, moderating social media use, or practising mindfulness.
This is the next step up from self-care, actively taking time to recognise the need to seek support for your mental health and can be a great starting point to manage mild symptoms of distress or worry.
There are plenty of free apps for mindfulness such as Smiling Mind, or others for free evidence-based modules to understand more about your mental health and how to manage worries.
MindSpot provides a free online assessment, feedback and treatment plan including access to online courses and therapists to talk to along the way. Similarly, MyCompass by the Black Dog Institute provides free online activities and support for people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
Telephone and online counselling
While often we’d like to talk to someone face to face, there are a range of telephone and online counselling services at our fingertips to access quickly and for free which can help to relieve concerns about waiting times, local service access, costs and so on.
The BeyondBlue Support Service provides free counselling via web chat or phone at any time (1300 224 636). Calls last for roughly 20 minutes and the qualified counsellor can chat through your concerns and help to point you in the right direction for further support if needed.
Kids Helpline is available 24/7 to provide practical help and emotional support to young people aged 5-25 via phone (1800 55 1800), webchat or email.
The Alcohol and Other Drugs Information Service (ADIS) provides 24/7 online and phone (1800 250 015) support delivering confidential information, advice, referral and support services for people affected by drugs and their loved ones.
It’s also important that carers of a family member or friend with disability, a medical condition, mental illness, or who is frail due to age are supported too. The Carer Gateway provides information and support to carers through in person, phone and online counselling (1800 422 737) during business hours, plus assistance with practical support, skills and courses and respite.
Telehealth and low cost clinical support
There are also face to face and digital mental health services available at low cost or for free depending on your needs and circumstances.
Rural Health Connect is an online platform linking people to psychologists via phone and video calls. Depending on your situation they may be able to bulk bill or reduce fees due to financial hardship.
Your Health In Mind provides access to a range of psychiatrists across Australia, with filters for various expertise and requirements including bulk billing for specific patient groups.
New Access, developed by Beyond Blue, is available in some areas. It is a free mental health coaching program delivered over 6 guided sessions for anyone aged 12 and over who is stressed, or feeling anxious or overwhelmed about everyday life issues, such as work, study, relationships and loneliness.
To access a psychologist for reduced fees you will need a Mental Health Care Plan from a GP. Ask your GP surgery whether they can bulk bill appointments, or search for a bulk-billing GP via Health Direct.
For many local counselling and support services there may be opportunity to reduce fees or set up a payment plan which is at the discretion of the service. It is worth discussing your situation with them to see what options may be available.
Your Local Health District provides specialist mental health, drug and alcohol assessment, treatment and care in both hospital and community-based settings across the state. These services are free and tailored to the needs of the person.
The best way to seek referral to these services and see if they are the right fit for your needs is via the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511. They can also provide mental health advice for yourself or a loved one.
In an emergency
As always, if life is in danger please call emergency services on 000, or visit your local hospital emergency department if available.
While cost of living pressures and financial stress can negatively impact our wellbeing, it is important to consider what we can continue to do to keep mentally healthy, and the services available to assist when things get tough.
If you’re not sure which options would best meet your needs you can find contact details for your local RAMHP Coordinator here.