We explain how to access different mental health services in Austria, as well as private health insurance, emergency support, and more.
Learning how to navigate mental healthcare in a new country can be a challenge, but fortunately for expats moving to Austria, this may be simpler than you think. To help you understand the different types of support on offer, this article outlines the following information:
- An overview of mental health in Austria
- Mental healthcare services in Austria
- How to access mental health services
- Insurance for mental healthcare
- Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists
- Support for drug and alcohol addiction
- Services dealing with eating disorders
- Healthcare for people with severe mental health problems
- Children and young people’s mental health services
- Mental healthcare services for special groups
- Mental health prevention and education programs in Austria
- Emergency support and crisis lines
- Useful resources
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An overview of mental health in Austria
Austria has a long history in the field of mental health. Indeed, the famous Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, started researching talk therapy in the 1880s while working as a neurologist at the University of Vienna. He later coined the term ‘psychoanalysis’. Despite this, attitudes towards accessing mental health resources are surprisingly conservative across the country. As a result, speaking to a mental health professional still carries a stigma, particularly among the older generations.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in Austria. This has become more prevalent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on people’s mental health. Indeed, according to the OECD’s 2021 Health as a Glance report, around 21% of the population reported symptoms of depression in 2020; this is more than twice as high as in 2019.
Mental healthcare services in Austria
The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care, and Consumer Protection (or Social Ministry) is responsible for dealing with all healthcare in Austria, which includes mental healthcare services. Expats working in the country are eligible for public health insurance. This partially covers mental healthcare, particularly psychological and psychiatric services.
In fact, employers are responsible for arranging healthcare coverage for their staff, who must pay a portion of their monthly salary into the social insurance system. This covers healthcare, pensions, and accident insurance. Employers must also make a contribution to public social insurance.
There are several public health insurance funds in Austria, but the largest is Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK). Doctors who operate within Austria’s public health network (Krankenkasse) are considered to be ‘in-network’ and work under contract with public health insurance funds such as ÖGK. Private doctors, on the other hand, do not.
Whether you visit a public or private practitioner will depend on your mental health needs and the type of health insurance you have. You can read more about this further down the article.
Mental health charities and non-profits
There are several charities and non-profit organizations in Austria that provide mental health support to those in need. For example, the Austrian Red Cross, Austrian Green Cross, and Samariterbund provide Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) services.
The Austrian Red Cross also trains its ambulance drivers to respond to mental health emergencies. In addition, it runs its own crisis prevention hotline, which you can reach by dialing 116 123. Some organizations also finance private clinics or special types of therapy that public insurance does not cover. One such organization is Lichtblickhof, which funds sessions with therapy animals for trauma victims.
How to access mental health services in Austria
Your regular doctor (Hausarzt) is your first port of call when it comes to seeking mental health support in Austria. They can prescribe medication for symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses. Your GP can also refer you to clinics or specialists that can provide you with the best possible care.
Notably, you will need to bring your health insurance card (e-card) with you when you visit the doctor. You will receive this once you are registered in Austria’s social security, health insurance, and pension system.
Insurance for mental healthcare
Public health insurance
Austrian public health insurance covers up to 40 appointments with a mental health practitioner per year. Patients are reimbursed around 80% of their out-of-pocket costs from visits to mental health specialists that work within the public health network (Krankenkasse).
Notably, arranging your reimbursement involves filling in and submitting some forms (in German). If you haven’t mastered the German language yet, then your doctor or specialist may be able to help you do this. You can also use this automated form (in German) to submit your documentation.
In order to be reimbursed through public insurance, you will need to submit the following documentation (electronically or by mail):
- Referral document (Zuweisung) – this describes your initial diagnosis and should be given to the receptionist prior to your first appointment with a specialist; along with your e-card which you will receive after registering for public healthcare
- Proof of treatment (Honararnote) – this includes details of the treatment and payments made, and is the most important document to submit
- Proof of payment (Rechnung) – this may consist of a stamp on your Honorarnote or paper receipts from debit or credit card transactions or electronic payments; your doctor or specialist might also provide you with a handwritten proof of payment slip
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
If you are from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, and are only staying in Austria temporarily, you may use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare services in Austria.
Notably, doctors and hospitals that are affiliated with the statutory healthcare system in Austria are obliged to accept your EHIC and treat you as a national patient. However, if they don’t have a contract with the social security institution, you must first pay the bill yourself and then submit it to the Austrian health insurance company for (partial) reimbursement. This is usually based on the applicable rates.
Private health insurance in Austria
Although public health insurance covers mental health services, several barriers still exist when it comes to accessing them. For instance, patients may have to wait anywhere between two and eight months for their first appointment.
For this reason, some people choose to take out private health insurance (Privatversichersung)) which grants them access to a wider range of services; along with shorter waiting times, more time with a specialist, and the option to visit public or private clinics and hospitals.
Alternatively, those who can afford to pay for private sessions might choose to work with private doctors who are unaffiliated with the public health network and who are not under contract with public insurance. That being said, if you need to see a private doctor on a regular basis, then extending your health insurance to cover private doctors is a more cost-effective solution in the long run.
Fortunately, there are many private health insurance providers in Austria, all of which are regulated by the Financial Market Authority. Some of the biggest ones include:
These companies offer a range of plans to suit all people and situations. However, factors such as gender and pre-existing conditions can determine the premium. You can discuss this, and more, with each provider.
Accessing emergency mental health services
If you are having a mental health crisis, you should dial Austria’s free national emergency hotline on 144. English-speaking operators should be available 24-hours a day to talk you through the situation. If you feel unsure about getting yourself or a loved one to a hospital during a crisis, you can arrange for an ambulance to pick you up and take you to the nearest emergency mental health clinic (Notfallambulanz).
Notably, public health insurance covers ambulance transport during a mental health crisis, unless the patient has abused drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, in such cases, patients may have to pay for the ambulance transport out-of-pocket. This is charged as a flat rate of €0.21/km driven in the ambulance; plus an additional charge for services from an emergency doctor (€83.20/hour) and EMTs (€193/hour for transport services plus €33.40/hour for each EMT present).
Hospitals in Austria have specialized clinics that provide both out-patient and in-patient mental healthcare. Therefore, you might continue seeing specialists at a clinic as an out-patient after receiving initial emergency treatment there as an in-patient. If you live in Vienna, this will be the special psychiatric unit at Klinik Landstrasse.
You can also call the Seelsorge emergency hotline on 142 for free to access psychological support in Austria.
Mental healthcare for the uninsured
If you are a resident of Austria and are currently uninsured for any reason, you can access free medical care through the Austrian Red Cross AmberMed program. This provides mental healthcare services and advice at local Red Cross branches throughout the country. You can visit the website and select your federal state (Bundesland) to find out more about the services in your region.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists
Psychology and psychiatry are the two traditional branches of mental healthcare in Austria. Psychiatrists work mainly with medication and can diagnose mental health diseases. Psychologists, meanwhile, offer talk therapy techniques.
Both psychologists and psychiatrists usually charge upwards of €75/hour for one-on-one therapy sessions. However, public health insurance from ÖGK covers 80% of in-network referrals. This reduces the amount to around €28 per session. Other public insurance funds offer slightly different rates.
As an expat, finding in-network doctors who can speak English or have English-language websites can be difficult. This is largely due to the fact that the ÖGK website is only searchable in German. That said, your regular doctor (Hausarzt) should be able to help you find an in-network therapist and assist you with the initial paperwork.
Professional organizations for registered therapists
Psychologists and psychiatrists have to register with a national professional organization in order to practice in Austria. Psychiatrists must register with ÖBVP, which lists 1,144 psychiatrists who offer therapy (in English) on its German-language search engine.
Meanwhile, Austrian psychologists must register with BÖP, a professional organization that provides certification for online therapists practicing in the country. Conveniently, the BÖP provides a searchable database for registered therapists. While the site is only searchable in German, it does list several hundred psychologists that can provide therapy in English.
The BÖP hotline (+43 1 504 8000) also provides quick psychological help (in English) free of charge and anonymously. The hotline is available from Monday to Sunday from 09:00 to 20:00 or via e-mail at [email protected].
Your first appointment: what to expect
Your first session with a therapist will likely be a consultation where you can see if you can work together. The therapist will review the initial diagnosis from your general practitioner and discuss your symptoms and concerns. They will then talk you through a treatment plan as well as any further recommended tests or medications you might need.
Once you have a referral from your GP, you won’t usually have to wait long to get an appointment with a therapist. That said, some in-network specialists are only able to work with a set number of patients and therefore have waiting lists. If you want to speed up the process, it is possible to make an appointment with a therapist and bring the doctor’s referral information later on.
Accessing remote psychological help
If you don’t mind paying out-of-pocket for therapy sessions, private organizations such as Instahelp, It’s Complicated, and Better Help may be a solution. They offer in-person and online therapy and will match you with psychologists within your area. Better Help can also match you with a therapist who is not located in Austria. These organizations can also combine online therapy sessions and chats with live sessions.
Psychology Today also provides a searchable network of verified English-speaking therapists in Austria, by town or region. This includes psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and therapists who are still undergoing training observation, which generally makes them less expensive. Some therapists also offer online therapy. TherapyRoute is another searchable database that helps connect you to English-speaking therapists worldwide.
Support for drug and alcohol addiction
If you feel that you are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is best to consult your regular doctor first. They will refer you to a detox-treatment coordinator. You can also talk to your GP if you are concerned about a loved one’s behavior or mental health.
In Austria, treatment for drug abuse typically involves counseling and psychotherapy. Psychosocial programs and social support can also help the patient reintegrate back into the community. Detoxification treatment services are available at both in-patient and out-patient clinics at local hospitals. Parachute Vienna also offers luxury rehabilitation facilities in the capital.
Notably, drug addiction treatment and recovery are not usually treated as an emergency in Austria, unless the patient has overdosed. Furthermore, public insurance will sometimes deny coverage to overdose patients.
Addiction support groups
There are several support groups in Austria for those dealing with addiction. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer support group meetings at their various branches throughout the country. That being said, both organizations have moved some of these meetings online due to the current COVID-19 restrictions. The agency Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG) is also responsible for several addiction recovery programs and research projects.
Meanwhile, schools and youth centers focus on teaching coping skills and strategies for safer experimentation and recreational substance use. This includes programs such as check it!. The Austrian Addiction Prevention Association website also provides regional links for prevention programs in schools across the country.
Drug testing services
Drug tests may be required during addiction recovery treatment. Your regular doctor can refer you to a testing center in your area, but you may also wish to remain anonymous. Drug testing centers such as DrogentestWien in Vienna offer complete screenings or single drug tests. Additionally, AIDS Hilfe offers a variety of free or low-cost tests for HIV and other STIs. Notably, it is possible to remain anonymous at both test centers. Outside the bigger cities, however, you will likely have to go through your doctor to find an appropriate drug testing facility.
Services dealing with eating disorders
Similar to other mental health issues, it is best to consult your family doctor if you are suffering from symptoms of an eating disorder (Essstörungen). Alternatively, you can contact a local social organization that specializes in helping sufferers.
Some public organizations that can help include:
- The Austrian Eating Disorders Network – operated by the Austrian Society on Eating Disorders (ASED), this offers information and links in both German and English
- The Institute for Women’s and Men’s Health – offers online support nationally and has health centers in Vienna for women and girls (FEM) and men and boys (MEN) for all areas of mental health; particularly eating disorders
- The eating disorder hotline – you can call 0800 20 11 20, or visit their website for more information (they are based in Vienna)
After receiving an initial diagnosis, patients can seek care at in-patient or out-patient clinics or work directly with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in providing care for their specific needs.
Healthcare for people with severe mental health problems
In Austria, most psychiatric clinics are departments within public hospitals. However, there are also some private ‘luxury’ rehabilitation clinics such as Parachute Vienna that are associated with a hospital or research facility. These are open to anyone who can afford to pay.
An in-patient stay at a hospital psychiatric clinic might be the best option for those experiencing severe or long-term mental health problems. This could just be an overnight stay or last several weeks to a year.
If you need to stay at a psychiatric clinic, your doctors will set a care goal for your release. Therapy will continue on an out-patient basis after your stay at the clinic, and this may include seeing affiliated therapists or doctors.
Children and young people’s mental health services
Your pediatrician or family doctor is typically your first port of call when it comes to seeking support or advice regarding your child’s mental health. However, it is important to bear in mind that because of the nature of mental health disorders in children and young people, they can take longer to diagnose and treat. Doctors will monitor and treat symptoms as they are reported, and may recommend additional care with specialists or support groups.
School doctors and social workers can also be an important point of contact for young people experiencing mental health issues. If a school doctor or pediatrician feels that a child should be referred to a specialist or clinic, there are several types of therapies and testing that are available, including:
- psychiatric diagnostic assessments
- psychological diagnostic
- psychotherapeutic diagnostics
- neuropsychological and neurophysiological diagnostics
- academic monitoring and special education
- speech therapy
- sport therapy
Multidisciplinary public clinics for young people, such as die Boje in Vienna and the Kepler Jugendklinik in Linz, also offer help in acute situations. These allow both parents and children to make an appointment for the same day, and visits are covered by public insurance.
Mental healthcare hotlines for young people
There are several crisis hotlines in Austria that are designed to be friendly to young people and encourage them to call on behalf of their family members. One such hotline, Rat auf Drat (147) provides advice to children and young people about diverse health topics. They can usually connect you with an English-speaking assistant right away. The hotline also provides advice for parents regarding anything from puberty and sexual health to anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder.
There are two main resources for children and young people at risk of suicide. One of them, bittelebe (which means ‘please live’) is a suicide prevention service that provides links to many local services in Austria. The other is the SUPRA hotline for young people, which is available 24/7 and can be reached by dialing 0800 567 567. SUPRA is a government program to support people with suicidal depression. The organization also lists other resources and crises numbers on its website.
You can also find the contact details of school psychologists (Schulpsychologie Bildungsberatung) in your area or call the organization on 0800 211320.
Mental healthcare services for special groups
Many out-patient psychology clinics offer group therapy that is free or on a sliding cost scale. For instance, the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna offers several forms of therapy and out-patient care in English and other languages. Most other cities also offer support groups for migrants and refugees. Notably, group therapy at out-patient clinics is often free or charged on a sliding scale according to the member’s income. Prospective patients are encouraged to write to [email protected] for more information.
Additionally, women and children experiencing abuse or shelter instability can access emergency mental healthcare by calling the nationwide Frauen Helpline on 0800 222 555. Alternatively, they can contact the Women’s Emergency Services or Wien für Wienerinnen support groups in Vienna which provide hotlines that offer assistance in sign language via video calls.
Meanwhile, men and boys can access help for escaping abusive situations by dialing 0720 70 44 00 or visiting the Männer Info website. Members of the LGTBIQ+ community can also contact the Villa for assistance related to discrimination, housing, and psychological stresses.
Mental health prevention and education programs in Austria
Austria has attempted to streamline access to mental health services and hotlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Ministry of Health provides up-to-date information about COVID support hotlines in English on its website. You can read more about the country’s approach to COVID-19 in our own article.
Programs like give, WohlfühlPool, WohlfühlZone, and Jedes Kind/Jugend Stärken also train teachers and administrators on how to help support young people through mindfulness sessions and social courage programs that are designed to diffuse tense situations at school.
Emergency support and crisis lines
Below are the main national emergency numbers relating to mental health in Austria:
- General emergency and rescue hotline: 144 or 112
- Non-emergency medical assistance hotline: 1450
- The 24-hour hotline for children and teens ‘Rat auf drat‘ (help on the line): 147
- The Frauen Helpline: 0800 222 555
- Vienna’s women’s emergency hotline: 01 717 19
- Emergency mental health hotline (Sozialpsychiatrischer Notdienst): 01 31330
- BÖP emergency mental health hotline:+43 1 504 8000 (from Monday to Sunday from 09.00 to 20.00) or via e-mail at [email protected]
Austria’s suicide prevention organization, SUPRA, also provides a comprehensive list of crisis hotlines available throughout the country.