Getting help FAQs

If you think you need professional help, you're probably right. It's a sign of strength to realise you can't get better on your own. It's important to know what therapy options are available and what each offers.

Reading time: 9 minutes


Do I need professional help?

To determine if you need to seek help, ask yourself:

  • Do you feel sad or depressed most of the time?
  • Do you feel anxious or have distressing thoughts almost all the time?
  • Do you have trouble working or meeting your daily responsibilities?
  • Do you have problems in your relationships, or trouble taking care of your family?
  • Have you increased your use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications? Or are you using them to cope with your problems?
  • Are you angry most of the time?
  • Do other people say they worry about you and think you should talk to someone?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping most of the time?
  • Are you having trouble eating, or have you gained or lost a lot of weight without trying?
  • Are you thinking about committing suicide, hurting or killing someone else?

If you have answered 'yes' to the last question above, call 000 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department.

If you answered 'yes' to any of the other questions, you could benefit from talking with a mental health professional.

You don’t have to wait for an emergency to speak to someone:

  • If you are a current serving member, contact your Garrison Health Service 24 hours a day on 1800 467 425.
  • If you are an ex-serving member, see your GP or call Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046 for free and confidential counselling and support 24/7.

Why do people usually seek professional help?

People get help when they realise there's a problem they can't deal with on their own.

This could be through self-analysis (possibly after a traumatic event such as a drink driving incident or angry outburst) or the advice of a loved one.

However you come to the decision isn't important. What's important is that you have taken an important step in the right direction.

Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Talking to a professional about mental health and wellbeing concerns will help you to help yourself.

Professional support will help you feel better within yourself and, just as importantly, make you feel more relaxed about connecting with people in your daily life, pursuing your goals and focusing on your future.

Your GP is generally the best place to start.

Current ADF personnel can self-refer to their local Defence health services, or Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046.

Will it really work?

Evidence shows that many types of therapy and medications are effective.

It may be hard to imagine now, but you can work through and recover from mental health problems.

Are you worried that counsellors won’t be able to help you or won’t understand what you’ve been through? You may be surprised to find out that they can help, and will work hard to understand you and your experiences. Counsellors are highly trained mental health providers. Some, like Open Arms counsellors, specialise in working with military personnel and veterans.

Within the Defence and DVA health care systems, many mental health providers are trained in providing these evidence-based treatments.

If you have a few sessions with a counsellor and you don't think it's going well, you can talk to the counsellor or your GP about what you want changed or you can ask for a different counsellor. Counsellors are focused on your recovery and will help you get the care you need.

Practical challenges

Finding a counsellor

Ask your GP for a referral to a counsellor. If you are a veteran or the partner of a veteran, you can also call Open Arms 24 hours a day on 1800 011 046 to find a local mental health provider with experience working with veterans. If you are an ADF member, your closest Garrison Health Service can assist you with referral to a mental health practitioner.


You may be able to access mental health care at no cost.

For serving Defence members, free access to treatment and support is available via Garrison Health Services, and via referral to Open Arms.

Alternatively, opportunities to access subsidised counselling under the Medicare system can be discussed with your GP.

Time off from work

If you need flexible appointments so you do not miss work, look for a counsellor that will work with your schedule. You need to find a good time where you won't feel rushed. Most employers will understand and help you take care of your health, whether it’s physical or emotional. Often, people work out a flexible schedule with their boss to free up time for their appointment.


Some people have problems getting to and from appointments either due to cost or physical issues.

Ex-serving members may be eligible to access transport assistance through DVA. Call DVA on 1800 555 254 for further information.

What does it say about me if I ask for help?

There's nothing wrong with asking for help or understanding yourself well enough to know you need help. Most people will go through a period of time when the going gets tough and life gets them down. Asking for help can make it easier to live the life you deserve.

It is also common for people to report some type of concern about their mental health after stressful experiences.

Don’t feel guilty about taking time to get yourself well. You will be better able to live a fulfilling life - and take care of your family and meet your responsibilities - if you are feeling better.

Talking about your experiences helps you feel more in control. Getting the support you need to live your life more fully shows strength, self-respect and courage.

What if I'm embarrassed about seeking help?

There's nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of when seeking professional help. And try not to be upset with friends or family who worry about you. Take it as a sign that they care and want the best for you and are looking for ways to help.

Expecting embarrassment and shame for asking for help is one of the main reasons why people don't seek help. You might ask yourself the following question: is it more important for me to worry about what someone else thinks of me? Or, is it important to get the help I need to move on with my life?

Who can help me?

As you think about getting care, know that there are many experts to help you, including GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health social workers, mental health occupational therapists, and pastoral counsellors or chaplains.

What does a GP do?

GPs are a good first contact to help you find the services you need. A GP is a medical doctor with a degree to diagnose and treat common medical and psychological problems.

They can refer you to an expert like a psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health social worker who can help you better address your problems. You can find a GP in the Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs health care systems, through recommendations from people you know, or via a referral from another health provider. If you need medical attention, a prescription, or a referral to a specialist, then your GP is the best place to start.

A GP may prescribe medicine to help with psychological problems.

What does a psychiatrist do?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat a variety of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance-use problems and severe mental illnesses. Psychiatrists primarily treat patients with medications that can help with symptoms of mental illness and other related problems (like sleep).

Some psychiatrists also provide counselling. Psychiatrists work in the community and within the Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs health care systems.

You can find a psychiatrist through advice from people you know, or via a mental health provider, but it is important to get a referral from your GP.

What does a psychologist do?

Psychologists work with clients who have serious mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance-use problems.

Psychologists work with singles, couples, families and groups. They can assess, diagnose and treat complex problems relating to mental health.

Psychologists are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medicine. Their role is to provide assessment and counselling. There are psychologists in the community and working throughout Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs health care systems.

You can find a psychologist through advice from people you know, referrals from a GP, or from another mental health provider. The Australian Psychological Society also provides a ‘find a psychologist’ service. You can also find a link to this service in the find professional care section of this website.

Eligible serving members and ex-serving members may also be able to find a psychologist through Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046.

What does a mental health social worker do?

Mental health social workers assist people who are struggling with mental health conditions, and family and relationship difficulties. Mental health social workers are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications.

In Australia, mental health social workers are recognised for their ability to provide mental health services under Medicare.

You can find a mental health social worker through advice from people you know or referrals from a GP or another mental health provider. The Australian Association of Social Workers also provides a ‘find social worker’ service.

You also can find a link to this service in the find professional care section of this website. Eligible serving and ex-serving members may also be able to find a mental health social worker through Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS).

What does a mental health occupational therapist do?

Mental health occupational therapists specialise in assessing how an individual's mental health problem affects their ability to function in their everyday occupations and roles. They work together with their clients to develop and achieve personal goals, including those relating to the work, leisure and social aspects of people's lives.

A mental health occupational therapist can help you to develop skills to live more independently, including assistance with developing hobbies and interests, returning to work and linking in with community groups and agencies. You can find a mental health occupational therapist through advice from people you know or referrals from a GP or another mental health provider. Occupational Therapy Australia also provides a ‘find an OT’ service.

Where can I find professional care near me?

Go to find professional care for links to resources for counselling and support. Some of the resources are organisations and networks, like the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS), and there are community care options as well.