So, you've decided you need help.
You're not in an emergency, but realize you're having a hard time and would like to talk to a mental health professional. This can be scary if you don't know what to expect.
You've taken a great step by coming here to gather information.
"If I have a concern, and just want advice or information, where can I go?"
Keep in mind that phone or website information will be general, and not tailored to your specific situation. Still, if all you want is information, there are many good phone or internet resources. Get started at:
For links to sites and organizations that address specific issues — from addiction and substance abuse, to sexual health and online safety, visit our Web Links section.
Who should I see?
The easiest way to get started is to see your family doctor. If you don't have a family doctor, go to a walk-in clinic. Some clinics even have their own counsellors.
Counselling agencies typically don't require a referral. Most therapists don't either, unless they need it for insurance purposes. To see a psychiatrist, you will need a referral from your family doctor.
Click here for a list of agencies and organizations that offer help.
Will it cost money to see someone?
Some services are free, some aren't.
- If you're a university or college student, most student health centres offer counselling for free. Most community health centres also have counsellors you can see for free. Go on their websites, stop in, or phone to check.
- If you see a general practitioner (GP) psychotherapist, the service is covered by most provincial health plans (such as OHIP). If you go to a hospital, it's also covered.
- In Canada, psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD's), so you don't pay because they are covered by provincial health plans (e.g., OHIP).
- Clinical psychologists are typically covered by extended health insurance plans through workplaces but not by provincial health plans.
- Some employers — either your own or your parents' — provide Employee Assistance Plans (EAP) that offer short-term counselling at no cost to you. Ask someone in your family to see if they have access to an EAP.
Usually psychologists have shorter waiting lists, and you can often just call and get an appointment. You usually don't need a referral from a family doctor, unless you want to submit your receipt to an extended health insurance plan (e.g. through your work or your parents' work).
When you submit your receipt to your extended health insurance plan, it's all confidential. Your employer can't get your file without your permission. If you see a psychologist in private practice, you may need to pay at the time of the visit (approx. $140 to $160) and then send in your receipt to be repaid.
Do I need to let anyone know why I'm going? How do I get an appointment without telling all kinds of personal information?
If your family doctor makes an appointment for you, he/she will explain your concerns.
If you call for an appointment yourself, you can just give general information, like "I've been depressed," or "I've been having a lot of trouble getting along with my family," or "I find myself getting so nervous that I can't even speak to people." The receptionist might ask a few questions just to make sure you get to see the person who's the best match for you.
The information you need to give varies a little with the type of service or agency you access. Here are some general guidelines.
In Canada, if you're over 16, you'll have complete confidentiality regarding your mental health. You can make your own health decisions, and providers can't reveal even the fact that you've requested help. You can ask your counsellor not to involve your parents, if that's your wish.
If you're between 14 and 16, you can get counselling at most clinics and receive guidance about mental health issues, including sexual health. If confidentiality is an issue for you, be sure to ask them what their policy is ahead of time.
If you're over age 16, you don't need your parent or guardian's consent to be treated at a hospital.
The age of consent at schools is 18, so sometimes a school may ask for your parents' consent for you to be seen by a mental health professional. Ask a teacher you know or guidance counsellor to tell you about the school's policy.
Can I have someone go with me?
You can definitely bring someone with you to the appointment.
Remember though, that most mental health professionals want your ideas, so your friend may be asked to wait in the waiting room. If you'd feel more comfortable having someone with you, just say so. Many counsellors/therapists would be OK with that.
If it's really important to you to know about this ahead of time, it may be a good idea to ask about the bring-a-friend policy on the phone.
Last updated October 2012