Jesuit Social Services
Understanding the Problem

Mental Health

Diagnosis and Who Can Help?

If your young person is having trouble coping with everyday activities, for a significant period of time, or dealing with very difficult thoughts and emotions, it is always worth talking to a professional who specialises in mental health care such as: a doctor, a social worker employed in the mental health field, a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

At times it is clear that there is something seriously not right with how the person is thinking, coping or behaving. At other times you may just need reassurance that everything is ok.
1. There are a range of health professionals who can assist a young person experiencing mental health symptoms. They include: doctors psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and mental health nurses.
2. Mental health services may be accessed through the public or private health sectors.
3. Accessing a combination of services such as counselling, medication and other support services is often beneficial for a person with a serious mental illness.
4. Family, friends and carers can often provide invaluable support for a person with a mental illness.

Your Doctor

A doctor is often a good first point of call. They have some knowledge of mental health symptoms and illnesses, including the impact of drug use on a person's mental health. They may be able to make a diagnosis or they may refer the young person to a specialist mental health practitioner for a more thorough assessment.


Psychiatrists are specifically trained to treat people with mental health problems. They work in both the public and private health sectors and should be consulted when a person has severe symptoms of mental illness or has had symptoms for some time.

Psychologists, social workers and others in the health
and welfare fields

These professionals also assist people with mental health difficulties. Most will have some knowledge and skills in dealing with mental health symptoms and illnesses and will know appropriate specialist mental health services to refer a young person to if necessary.


Psychologists are not medically trained and therefore do not prescribe medications. Most psychologists, however, do have good skills in working with people with mental health difficulties and in cases where the young person has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Psychologists tend to use strategies such as counselling or therapy to assist their clients to understand their problems in different ways and to cope better with them.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists specialise in mental health issues, and are qualified to assess, diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders or serious psychological difficulties. They are likely to work in conjunction with psychiatrists, who are able to prescribe medications where necessary.

Counselling/Psychological Work/Psychotherapy

There are different approaches or methods of psychological work including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Family Therapy and Psychodynamic therapy. The terms counselling and therapy may mean the same thing, although sometimes psychotherapy is used to refer to therapy which is deeper in nature, and aims to address more long-standing, childhood, and unconscious issues (see: Types of Help Available - Private Practitioners).

Public versus Private Practitioners

Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, Counsellors and other health professionals may work for an agency or organisation, for example, the government mental health (psychiatric) service. Alternatively, they may work in their own private practice.

There are usually no, or quite low, fees for services within the public health system, community health services or community counselling agencies. In some agencies fees are means-tested and you might be asked to pay some money depending on the level of your income. Fees for private practice may be quite high. Private health cover may cover some of the costs, depending on your level of cover. You may ask to negotiate the fee.

Some benefits of seeing a private practitioner include: they may be able to work with you on a long-term basis and there may be less likelihood of a worker changing.

Your doctor may refer you to someone or you may see: Need a Helping Hand? to find out about services available.

Doctors or General Practitioners

General practitioners can prescribe some psychiatric medications but psychiatrists have completed both the qualification to be a doctor as well as specialised training in assessing and treating psychiatric illnesses and usually have more detailed knowledge and understanding of mental illnesses. Doctors can refer to psychiatrists and other professionals and services as needed.

A combination of services is most helpful

Often with a mental illness, medication, counselling and other support are all important to assist the person in recovery. Depending on the type and extent of an illness, some people may manage to get better on their own, often with the support of family and friends or other strategies they have found helpful. However if the illness is serious and severe, formal diagnosis and treatment is usually required.

Support services available

Along with the professionals described above, there are other support services available for people with mental illnesses and for those who are affected by someone with a mental illness such as family members, friends and carers.
More about Mental Health
What is a Mental Illness?
Suicidal Behaviour
What Causes Mental Illness?
How Do I Know if it's a
Mental Illness?
Diagnosis and Who Can Help?
Support Services
What Else Can I Do?
Related Help Sheets
Need a Helping Hand?
What Else Can I Do?
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