SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- No one is to blame when a person is affected by mental health conditions
- Family and friends can provide important emotional and practical support
- Sometimes caring for a family member or friend can be overwhelming, and it can be helpful to seek support from a support group or counsellor
Family and friends of someone living with a condition often share similar experiences. People living with mental health condition can be helped in many ways by family and friends. It is not uncommon for family and friends to focus a large portion of their attention and energy on their loved one. However, it is important to look after yourself too.
Getting mental health help early
It’s important to look out for early warning signs of mental health conditions in a family member or friend. Some early warning signs include:
- Changes in mood
- Erratic or risky behaviour
- Loss of motivation
- Unusual thinking patterns or beliefs
- Withdrawal from usual activities
The sooner the person receives support and treatment, the better the outcome is likely to be. It can help to:
- Encourage the person to speak with a doctor about their concerns.
- Speak with your own doctor about your concerns and what options might be available if the person is reluctant to see their doctor.
Common reactions to mental health problems
Mental health conditions often has a ‘ripple effect’ on families, creating tension, uncertainty, stress and sometimes significant changes in how people live their lives. Different family members are likely to be affected in different ways.
It's normal to feel a whole range of emotions, such as guilt, fear, anger and sadness. Acknowledging these feelings can be the first step towards working through them.
No one is to blame when a person is affected by mental health conditions.
Taking care of yourself
Sometimes caring for someone living with a mental health condition can increase your own risk of mental and physical ill health. It is important to look after yourself and know your limits.
It can be helpful to:
- Learn as much as you can about the relevant mental health condition, treatment and what are available in your area. This also helps in understanding what's going on for your loved one and knowing how you can help.
- Find out if there are education and training courses for carers that you can attend.
- Understand that symptoms may come and go, and vary in severity. Different levels of support may be required for yourself and your loved one at different times.
- Develop a sense of balance between your own needs and the needs of the person you care for.
- Consider contacting a support group for carers or relatives and friends of people with mental health conditions.
It might be helpful to decide what level of support and care you are realistically able to provide to the person. Engage in a supportive conversation with your family member or friend (as well as mental health professionals) about the type of support you can provide. This can help ensure that any types of support you are unable to provide can be arranged in another way.
Talk to the person’s doctor, case manager, or mental health professional about what types of professional support are available to help you. This might include options such as psychological therapies or counselling, peer support, respite, rehabilitation programs, or NDIS eligibility.
Structure can be an important part of developing and maintaining good self-care strategies as well as supporting the recovery for people living with a mental health condition. Plans may include:
- develop predictable routines – for example, regular times to get up and eat. Introduce gradual changes to prevent boredom
- break tasks into small steps – for example, discuss with the person what steps would help with daily self-care
- try to overcome any challenges with motivation – for example, encourage and include the person in activities
- encourage the person to make decisions – sometimes this can be difficult for a person who is unwell, or they may keep changing their mind. Try to resist the temptation to make the decision for them.
Supporting someone who may have suicidal thoughts
If you think a friend or relative is at risk of , discuss your concerns with them openly and non-judgmentally. Rather than putting the idea of suicide into someone’s head, a supportive conversation gives them the opportunity to acknowledge and talk about their distress. Encourage, or help, the person to access professional help, such as their mental health professional. To stay safe, suggest they contact a helpline such as:
If the person is at serious risk of suicide, stay with them if possible and contact the psychiatric emergency team at your local hospital. Or, call 000 and explain that the person is suicidal, has made a plan, and you have concerns for their safety. Keep these numbers readily available in case you need urgent help.
Managing aggressive or violent behaviour
Aggression and violence are not necessarily common features or symptoms of mental health conditions. But they can be associated with some mental health conditions, because of the higher likelihood of experiencing emotional states that can lead to episodes of aggression or violence (such as periods of confusion, distress or high emotional arousal).
If someone is persistently aggressive, report any actual or threatened violence to their treating health professionals immediately (and the police, if necessary). If you live with someone who is persistently aggressive, you may need to seriously consider ways you can stay safe, including possibly living apart or working with a family violence service.