Relatives and friends can often be the first people to notice the signs that someone’s mental health is deteriorating. These signs are usually changes in personality and behaviour such as becoming unusually anxious or irritable, isolated and withdrawn, not sleeping or eating properly and not taking care with appearance and hygiene.
Signs of illness are worrying, but they’re also a signal to take action. Taking the right kind of steps will help reduce the impact of illness and help recovery. So what’s the right kind of action to take?
First, ask the person you’re worried about if there’s anything they need to talk about. If there is, listen and don't judge. If there’s isn’t, don’t force things.
If they say they’re worried about their mental health, encourage them to see their GP and offer practical help such as making an appointment and going along to appointments with them. If they’re already engaged with a treatment service, encourage them to get in touch with the staff.
Sometimes, signs that a person could put themselves or others at risk of harm appear suddenly and dramatically, so having a plan worked out in advance is a very good idea.
If you think the person needs urgent help, call the emergency services on 000.
If the person has harmed themselves in any way or taken an overdose, get them to the nearest hospital emergency department.
And last but not least: take care of yourself. Worrying about a loved one can be stressful. Make sure that you look after your own wellbeing by learning ways of managing stress.
Family and friends can be important partners in care and partners in recovery.
To provide effective support to your loved one’s recovery, you need to be informed about recovery. This will help you to be realistic about it.
Be informed about recovery so you can understand:
the challenges it will present to you, your loved one and the rest of the family
how to support recovery practically by doing things like empowering your loved one to stick with their treatment and reminding them to go to appointments
the signs of deteriorating mental health. Know them and have a plan for dealing with them.
There’s no such thing as the perfect recovery or the perfect carer, and expecting there to be either causes stress. Being good enough is good enough.
Have realistic expectations of your loved one. Accept that mental illness can be unpredictable, as can recovery, and encourage your loved one to accept this, too.
Have realistic expectations of yourself, too. Caring for someone in recovery is challenging so do whatever you can to look after yourself – taking respite, joining support groups and having someone to talk to about how you feel will pay big benefits to you and your loved one.
Accept that your family will be under stress so do what you can to keep the family functional. Use skills like communicating effectively as well as being flexible and adaptable.
It makes a lot of sense for family and friends to take care of themselves. It can be tremendously hard caring for a person with mental ill-health. The pressures can be relentless.
So, the better physical and emotional shape you’re in, the better you can perform your caring role and handle the challenges it brings.
There’s a lot you can do to improve your wellbeing by keeping a balance in life.
Doing just some of them will make a big difference.
As a carer, you’ll probably want to be aware of legal issues that might affect you and the person you care for.
The legal issues that people with a mental illness are likely to experience are usually to do with how their illness is treated (things like confidentiality or compulsory treatment) and issues such as debt or housing difficulties.
Carers’ legal issues are often about making decisions for the person you care for when they’re not well enough to do so themselves. These include decisions about money or whether a person needs to be admitted for inpatient treatment.
Once you realise that you or the person you care for has a legal issue, it’s good to get it sorted out and avoid serious consequences.
Unfortunately, people with a mental illness can come up against barriers to getting involved with the legal system. These barriers are usually to do with symptoms, such as being too anxious or depressed to seek help. People can also be put off by aspects of the system itself, such as trying to understand legal jargon or having difficulty in finding affordable help.
The good news is that there’s a lot of affordable – often free – help for people with mental illness and their carers. For a start, we suggest you explore the availability of community legal aid services in your area.
There’s also help in dealing with the criminal justice system (that’s the police, courts and other people who make sure that people who break the law face the consequences and that victims of crime are treated properly). The system has laws that protect people who have a mental illness, including laws about their rights to getting legal advice and representation and being dealt with properly.
Mind’s policy guidance to working with families and carers
Mind has a strong commitment to supporting families and carers of people with mental ill-health. We adhere and follow several guidelines, legislation and best practice for working with families and carers. We meet our responsibilities under the following policies:
Mind cares about carers. We stand up for their rights, including their right to support. And of course, supporting carers improves outcomes for their loved ones.
Yet our research shows that half of Australia’s mental health carers have support needs that aren’t being met. Thirty-five per cent of them don’t even know what support’s available.
That needs to change, because a lot of support is available. We at Mind are committed to playing our part in bringing that change about. We want all families and carers to get the information, support and services they need at the time they need them.
Call our Carer Helpline 1300 554 660 for over-the-phone counselling, as well as find out about the range of services we have available for carers. (Your loved one does not have to be using a Mind service to access this support.) You can also search our services section of this website to find out what is available in your area.
Other sources of information:
The Australian Government’s Carer Gateway contains a lot of useful information about supporting carers.
If you are a young person caring for someone with mental ill-health (including a parent), you might find the following sites useful:
A range of support groups are available through Mind for those who care for, and care about people living with mental health problems. Groups provide an opportunity for family, friends and carers to connect with those with similar experiences and to learn current ideas and practices in the field of mental illness. Groups are facilitated by professionals and carers who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge. Speakers from specific areas of mental health are a regular feature of the groups.
Mind currently operates carer support groups from a small number of sites. They include:
Borderline Personality Disorder Family and Carer Group
Grow - Better Together
Exploration and information group
For more information about the Mind support groups and where they are located contact the Carer Helpline 1300 554 660.
Our family education program is open to family members, friends and carers supporting those with a mental illness and any other interested people. The program aims to empower family, friends and carers to:
improve carer coping, knowledge and management skills
enhance carer wellbeing, resilience and relationships
enhance relationships between carers and mental health services
improve consumer mental health by supporting families and carers.
All of our training follows the Carer Life Course Framework, which maps supports across a continuum of caring and recovery. This model allows us to plan supports for carers from early identification - something is wrong - through to ongoing management and coping.
For more information about Mind carer education please contact the Carer Helpline 1300 554 660.
Upcoming carer workshops and activities around Victoria
This guide explains how Mind responds to the impact of mental illness on the wellbeing of families and carers in their own right, and works with them as partners in care through family-centred and inclusive practice.
Created by experts in mental health care, this guide helps service staff support carers in their role as partners in recovery. It enables services and programs to draw on carers’ expertise when designing and implementing care for people with mental illness.