When you or someone you care about is first diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be hard to know where to start in looking for help.
Here are the key services providing the treatment and support needed to recover as well as possible and be able to get on with life again.
Your local GP
A general practitioner (GP) is the important first port of call if you have any concerns about mental or physical health. GPs see people about their mental health every day and are very familiar with symptoms and treatments. Be completely frank about what is worrying you. It also helps to book a longer appointment so there is time to talk, and take some notes along too. The more information the doctor has, the better they can help. The GP can then prescribe a Mental Health Plan. This may include referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other relevant clinician.
Clinical support is essential to treat symptoms. It is provided by a range of health professionals and services.
For people affected by anxiety and depressive disorders, the referral will often be to a psychologist (or other suitably-qualified health professional) who can provide psychological or ‘talking’ therapy. This form of treatment involves working with the therapist to examine situations related to distressed feelings and thoughts, and learning new ways of managing these. (Referrals from a GP are mostly covered by Medicare. A privately-organised appointment will need to be paid personally.)
People affected by any of the whole range of mental health problems may be referred to a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a doctor who has additional qualifications in helping people with mental health problems. As well as psychological therapy, a psychiatrist can prescribe medications if needed and give referrals to other support services.
Community mental health services
People with psychotic conditions such as Schizophrenia, with personality disorders, and some other conditions usually receive treatment in the public mental health system. These provide access through community mental health service clinics to a range of health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and others. Ask about having a case manager. Case managers can coordinate clinical and psychosocial treatments, provide information, education and support to the whole family, as well as referral to community agencies.
People only need in-patient care in a hospital when they are acutely unwell, and cannot be treated effectively while living at home. This is usually for a period of days or weeks only, until symptoms respond to treatment. If help is needed urgently, call the psychiatrist or case manager (or a crisis assessment team after hours), and they can arrange for assessment and hospitalisation if necessary. People covered by health insurance may also be able to stay in a private psychiatric hospital.)
Ongoing support in the community can make all the difference when recovering from an episode of mental illness.
Rehabilitation and support programs
Run by community mental health support services, these programs are based around individual support and a range of activities (such as walking, writing, meditation) or special groups (such as young peoples’ groups, women’s groups, cultural/language groups). They may provide structured programs where you can learn new skills to help you get back on your feet again, while meeting others in a similar situation. Your local community mental health service or council should be able to direct you to community mental health support services in your local area.
People seriously affected by mental illnesses may be eligible for financial assistance (such as a Disability Pension or other allowance). To find out if you are entitled, contact the Disability Support Worker at your local Centrelink.
Specialist disability employment services are available to help people affected by psychiatric and other disabilities return to work. For assessment and referral to one of these, contact the Disability Support Worker at your local Centrelink.
There are many different types of accommodation available which vary in the level of support provided. To find out more about accommodation options, contact your community mental health service or local council.
Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHAMs)
Ask your case manager or doctor whether there is a PHAMs program in your area which can provide a Personal Helper to visit you regularly to help with daily activities and accessing local services.
Peer support groups provide a place to meet with others in a similar situation or with similar illnesses in a relaxed, non-judgemental environment. Your local community mental health service should be able to direct you to your nearest group. The SANE Forums are an online space where you can engage with others in this way to exchange experiences, information and tips, and provide mutual support. The Forums are available 24/7 and are a safe, anonymous, and moderated service provided by SANE in partnership with community mental health support services all around Australia.
Support for family and friends
Family and friends often provide essential support as carers. They need help to take care of themselves as well as to provide support.
Carer support agencies
There are organisations in every State and Territory to help carers, providing support, information and education. Contact the SANE Help Centre or 1800 18 SANE (7263) for details.
Peer support for carers
Peer support groups provide a place to meet with other carers in a relaxed, non-judgemental environment. The local community mental health service should be able to direct you to your nearest group. The SANE Forums are an online space where you can engage with other carers in this way to exchange experiences, information and tips, and provide mutual support. The Forums are available 24/7 and are safe, anonymous, and moderated service provided by SANE in partnership with community mental health support services all around Australia.
Carers may be eligible for a Carer Allowance. To find out more, contact the Disability Support Worker at your local Centrelink.
Carers Australia and other agencies have programs for carers needing a short or longer period of respite, a break from the caring role. Contact the SANE Helpline or 1800 18 SANE (7263) for details.