The first thing you should do if you're depressed or anxious.

Image: Still from Mad Men

There are some very smart moves you can pull if you feel you’re veering into scary mental health territory, and number one on the list is to find the right specialist for you.

Personally, I fantasise about who I could afford if I won the lotto. After a super luxe holiday, I’d tee up a full year of psychodynamic purging with a great therapist in Manhattan (I picture her as Meryl Streep with a messy blonde bob), who would pull the demons from me like rotten teeth. My jaw would clench with angst just like Keira Knightly in A Dangerous Method. I’d have to retire to my beach house in the Hamptons, spent and broken, only to return and rise like the phoenix from the ashes, a new and better me.

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But failing that, my advice is to seek out one of these pros, each with their own specific style. So which one’s for you?


A counsellor can be an excellent and often free resource to help you through tough times.

If you are studying or have access to a community health centre then counsellors can be an excellent and often free resource to help you through tough times. The only downside is any old sausage can call themselves a counsellor so it can pay to squint around the room for qualifications or ask straight out. If they look shifty, kick at some fluff then flee the room. I had a friend who once saw a counsellor that announced: “I don’t believe in stress”. Fair chance that one had no qualifications and I’m also pretty sure it would be legal to throw all the papers on their desk in the air and walk out.

Lifeline counsellor

These AMAZING people volunteer their time and are available 24 hours a day. With anxiety being the most common mental health condition in Australia, odds are that you, dear reader, have had a 3am onslaught of unhelpful and debilitating anxiety that eats up your sleep and leaves you feeling like a half chewed pork bun. Lifeline is a crisis counselling hotline that will give you FREE counselling for around 20 minutes or so. It may be just the ticket to take the edge off those ruminations that are running around your head like a mental Usain Bolt. Call 13 11 14.


General practitioner

Losing your mojo? Is your get-up-and-go more like lie-down-and-snooze? Feeling fatigued can be a sign of depression, so you might like to take a visit to the GP to investigate. If you don’t have any other symptoms of depression then you may have a vitamin deficiency or hormonal imbalance to thank for your low energy. You will know if you don’t have any other symptoms because your doctor will give you a mental health assessment, most likely including a K 10 depression and anxiety test. Occasionally, some GPs get a bit script-happy with the anti-depressants so if this happens to you and you aren’t really convinced that depression is your problem, seek another opinion. Of course, if you are having suicidal thoughts stop reading this and ring your GP immediately.


Your GP can give you a referral to a psychologist. Image via iStock.


Three million Australians are experiencing depression and anxiety right now. If this is you, you may like to get a referral from your GP to a psychologist. There are medications that help with these disorders but the overwhelming evidence suggests the best outcomes occur from developing strategies to cope better. Mindfulness-based techniques are very popular at the moment and involve removing yourself from persistent troubling thoughts. There are variety of ways to do this, such as identifying what the thoughts are and recognising that just because you think something doesn’t make it true. Meditation is also encouraged – and personally I’m all for something that involves lying down and closing my eyes. If you are referred from your doc based on a mental health assessment, you will only have to pay the gap fee – maybe $40 or so. Some psychologists don’t even have a gap.

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A psychiatrist is trained as a medical doctor before going on to study psychiatry. They can diagnose mental disorders and also prescribe medication if needed. If you suddenly start mistaking people for objects or can longer recognise your own body parts as belonging to you then these are the geezers you’ll be seeing. (If you’d like to read more about people who mistake people for objects or can longer recognise their own body parts then go read some Oliver Sacks. Or at least check out his TED talks.


Psychodynamic therapist

Now back to me and my lotto fantasy. I’ll lie on the couch and be freed of all my ills while handing over wads of cash. Meryl will plumb the depths of my unconscious thought, which will alleviate all my unconscious woes and I WILL achieve self-actualisation. Actually, I found out recently that you can get free psychodynamic therapy from a Masters student at a certain university in Melbourne. For all my bluster, once the financial barrier was taken away I suddenly decided that reaching that deep was an intimidating prospect indeed – like fishing for flounder but coming up with one of those hideous deep sea freaks with a stemmed eyeball. Yerk! I think I might just leave that one for another decade.

Angel Consultant

That lady whose flyer on a noticeboard says she is a qualified therapist because she has had 10 years of introspection and sees angels?
Don’t. No, just don’t.

Don't. Just don't.

Your mate

Of course, sometimes the best therapy can just be having a chinwag with a good pal – the research shows that good social support is key in managing general stress and anxiety. “But I don’t want to burden my friends with my boring problems” you cry! Then let me ask you this – if your friend came to you saying they felt less than fantastic and could use a chat would you:
a) Run to their joint, throw a snugly doona on them, make a cup of tea, then say, “Spill yer guts, babe.”
b) Recoil in horror, flip ’em 50 cents and say, “Call someone who cares.”
If you said b) you might want to take the Hare psychopath test, but if you (surely!) answered a) then be assured that your pals would do the same for you. We are all only human after all.

Who do you go to when you need someone to talk to?