Fact sheet 24
Getting help for depression and anxiety - confidentiality and costs
Many young people with depression or anxiety ask friends and family to support them when they decide to get help. But if you don’t want anyone in your life to know you’re having troubles, that’s OK – and it shouldn’t stop you from talking to a health professional. Unless your safety or the safety of someone else is at risk, anything you tell a health professional will stay between the two of you. And you don’t need to worry about the cost - Medicare can cover most or all of the cost of your treatment.
If you think you might have depression or anxiety, but feel like you can’t ask your family or friends for help, it can be hard to decide who to talk to first. If seeking professional help seems too complicated or expensive, you might just keep putting it off – which often makes the problem worse.
Here are some easy first steps you can take towards getting free, confidential help:
- Talk to your school counsellor: Many young people see their school counsellor, for many different reasons – often without telling anyone. A school counsellor can help you talk through your problems and find possible solutions. It’s a good idea to discuss your rights to privacy and confidentiality before you start.
- Talk to a telephone counsellor: Calls to Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are free from landline phones. If you’re with Optus or Virgin, you can call for free from your mobile and the call won’t show up on your phone bill. You can chat to a Kids Helpline counsellor about anything – problems at school or home – and your call will remain private. You don’t even have to tell the counsellor your name. The Kids Helpline service is available to young people aged between five and 25.
- Use the web for online counselling: If you’re worried about using the phone, www.kidshelp.com.au offers online counselling, through live chat or over email. You can keep it confidential by using private browsing – where your computer doesn’t store information about the sites you’ve visited – or by deleting your internet history. Just be aware you may need to wait before a counsellor is available – so if you need to talk to someone urgently, call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
- Find a free counsellor: Youth centres or ‘drop-in zones’ have counsellors you can speak to without an appointment and for free. Contact your local council to find out about services available in your area. Look under the “Government” section of the White Pages telephone book or online at www.whitepages.com.au.
As well as being someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling, counsellors should be able to answer any questions you may have about doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, expenses, Medicare, and how confidentiality works.
Confidentiality - will anyone find out?
Sometimes, you don’t want anyone in your life to know there’s something wrong. While this might change later, you shouldn’t let it stop you from seeking help now – if you need to, you can get medical treatment without your parents, friends or anyone else finding out about it.
All health professionals are legally required to keep anything you tell them a secret. This is called doctor-patient confidentiality. You have to be honest with your doctor so that you can get the right treatment. Doctors can’t tell your parents or the police about what you have told them, even if you’ve used alcohol or drugs, or had sex.
Doctors can break this confidentiality only if:
- you give consent
- they think you might be about to hurt yourself or somebody else
- they are talking to another medical professional in confidence about you
- they are required to by a court of law.
Who else can I talk to besides my family doctor?
While your family doctor won’t tell your parents or other family members that you’ve been to see him or her, it may be easier to open up to someone you don’t know. It’s OK to find another GP to talk to. You can find a doctor in your area here or in the Yellow Pages.
If you don’t feel you’re ready to speak to anyone face-to-face, or if you need help straight away, telephone counsellors are available any time for the cost of a local call (from landlines) – and if you like the counsellor you spoke to, you can talk to the same person again, as many times as you want. (See the list of help lines at the end of this fact sheet.)
Cost - What if I can’t afford it?
Even when you suspect you need help, you might wonder whether you can afford to see a health professional, or even if it’s really worth the money.
Fortunately, in Australia, treatments for health problems, including mental health problems, are either completely free or partly paid for by the Government - all you need is a Medicare number (see below).
There are many doctors who bulk bill. This means they charge the Government for your consultation and you don’t have to pay anything.
Community health centres usually bulk bill and don’t require an appointment - you can just turn up, quote your Medicare number and see a doctor. If it’s your first visit, you will probably have to provide some personal contact details. To find a centre in your area, look up ‘Community Health Services’ in the White Pages.
If you see a doctor who doesn’t bulk bill and you do end up paying for a consultation, you can claim some of the cost back from Medicare. The easiest way is to take the receipt from your doctor to a Medicare office. If you can’t get to an office, you can also claim by mail or over the telephone, or ask at the doctor’s about claiming online.
If your doctor diagnoses you with a mental health condition (like depression or an anxiety disorder), he/she will help you to work out a Mental Health Treatment Plan. This plan tells you who you should see, when to see them, and how much it will cost. Since Mental Health Treatment Plans are part of a special government program, you will have most of the cost of your treatments paid for by Medicare. To find out more about Mental Health Treatment Plans, have a look at beyondblue Fact sheet 24 - Help for depression, anxiety and related disorders under Medicare.
Confidentiality and Medicare
If you need to visit a doctor or buy prescription medicines, you’ll need your Medicare number. Just write down the card number, as well as the reference number listed next to your name, from your family’s card and keep it with you to use whenever you need to. If you don’t have your Medicare number with you, your doctor or pharmacist can request it by calling Medicare.
If you are older than 14, your parents won’t be able to find out from Medicare or your doctor what you used the card for. They may, however, know that you used the card if they request your Medicare benefit tax statement - usually needed for tax purposes.
Your Medicare benefit tax statement will show only the name, service type, amount charged, receipts presented (as well as receipts not presented) for each person on the card. It doesn’t show bulk bill claims.
If you are younger than 14, your parents can request a copy of your Medicare claims history if they choose to. Your history may include the date of service, Medicare item number, description of the service, name and address of treating practitioner, payment method and amount charged, date of lodgement and date of processing. It does show bulk bill claims.
If you want complete privacy, once you turn 15 you can apply for your own Medicare card. Just take your card number and identification (student ID, birth certificate, passport, learner driver’s permit or probationary licence) into a Medicare office and ask to be transferred to your own card. You can also choose to stay on your family’s card and get a card of your own for convenience or things you don’t want your family to know about.
Application forms to apply for your own Medicare card are available from your local Medicare office, or by calling 132 011 or go to www.medicareaustralia.gov.au (click on For individuals and families, Forms and brochures, Medicare).
Key points to remember
- If getting help seems too hard or complicated, take simple steps first - see a school counsellor or call Kids Helpline.
- Don’t let lack of money be a barrier to getting help. Remember, it is easy to get most or all of the cost of your treatment paid for by Medicare.
- Even if you do spend a little of your own money, don’t think for a second that it’s a waste. Treatment doesn’t have to cost very much and can have lifelong benefits.
- Your doctor can’t tell your parents or even the police about what you have told them. Doctors can only break this confidentiality if you give consent, they think you might be about to hurt yourself or somebody else, they are talking to another medical professional in confidence about you, or they are required to by a court of law.
- Remember, if you need to talk to someone right now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
More information and support
If you need to talk to someone, find more information or find out where you can go to see someone, these numbers and websites may be helpful.
This fact sheet is based on information from: