Caring for someone with a mental illness

The support of family and friends is vital in the treatment and recovery of those who are living with a mental illness.

It is estimated that there are 240 000 Australians who provide care for an adult living with a mental illness, most commonly a partner or a child.* As a mental health carer you may be providing many different types of support, including:

  • emotional support such as listening, encouraging and motivating
  • assisting around the house and with daily tasks
  • checking in on the person you care for and being ‘on standby’
  • monitoring medication and side effects
  • organising medical appointments and transport
  • working with mental health professionals 
  • managing behaviours which can include paranoid or aggressive behaviours
  • visiting the person you care for in hospital

Caring for somebody who lives with a mental illness can at times be difficult and confusing. The illness may cause the person to think, feel or behave in ways that are hard to understand or cope with

Carers of someone with a mental illness often face unique challenges in their caring role. Your caring role may be episodic and hard to predict. You may face challenges in getting help through the mental health system.  You may also experience the impact of stigma and discrimination. 

It is also common for mental health carers to be caring for a person with other conditions, such as alcohol or drug use, a physical health problem or a disability.

 

Diminic et. Al. (2016) The economic value of informal mental health caring in Australia

Mental health services

There is a wide range of mental health services across NSW which can provide support to you and the person that you care for. 

You can contact Carers NSW on 02 9280 4744 or email contact@carersnsw.org.au.  Carers NSW can consider your unique circumstances and provide advice for your situation.

You can call Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737 (Mon-Fri, 8-5pm) or visit www.carergateway.org.au to access carer support planning, counselling, peer support, carer directed support packages and emergency respite.

Some other services which you might find helpful are listed below. Some of these services are provided by the Government and some are provided by community-based organisations. Some services focus on specific age groups or mental health conditions. This is not a comprehensive list, but it covers the main services and resources across NSW you may find helpful. 

Mental Health Line 

The Mental Health Line is a 24-hour telephone service operating seven days a week across NSW. It is run by NSW Health and staffed by mental health professionals.  People with a mental health issue and their families and carers can use the Mental Health Line to get advice about symptoms, and be directed to local treatment options.  

The Mental Health Line can link you or the person you care for to NSW Health programs such as Community Mental Health Services, Aboriginal Mental health services, Mental Health Services for Older People, and Housing and Accommodation Support (HASI).

Call the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.

Mental Health Carers NSW (MHCN)

Mental Health Carers NSW (formerly Arafmi NSW) is a non-government organisation that provides advocacy and support for families, relatives and friends of people who experience mental illness. MHCN operate a Carer Connections telephone service which provides advice and local referrals. MHCN also hold workshops for carers on topics related mental illness & recovery. You can call MHCN on 1300 554 660 (free call) /(02) 9332 0700 or email them here. 

Family and Carer Mental Health Support Programs 

NSW Health funds a range of organisations to provide support to families and carers of people living with a mental health condition across NSW. The Family and Care Mental Health Support Programs:

  • teaches families and carers about mental illness and its management and helps to build coping skills and resilience
  • provides individual support and advocacy services for families and carers of people with a mental illness.

The Programs also have an important role in helping peer support groups in their local area. Read more about the Program and find your local service here.

Beyondblue 

Beyondblue is a national organisation which provides information which is helpful to those supporting someone with depression or anxiety. The beyondblue guide for carers includes information about how to help someone with depression and anxiety and work towards recovery. You can read it here

SANE Australia 

Sane Australia provides a range of guides and resources for families, friends and others caring for someone with a mental illness. Check out their carer stories and other resources here

GPs, Psychologists, Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals

Seeing a GP is often the first step to treating mental health conditions. GPs can link patients to a range of specialist mental health professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. A GP may refer you to a service that is available through Medicare or your local Primary Health Networks. If you are in an eligible group you may be able to access mental health care at an affordable rate or for free.  

Many people living with a mental illness will be referred to ‘Better Access to Mental Health Care’, which provides Medicare rebates to make mental health treatment more affordable. In order to be eligible your GP will need to develop to Mental Health Treatment Plan.

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) 

The NDIS can provide certain types of support to people with psychosocial disability. Psychosocial disability is the word used to describe disabilities that arise from mental health issues. People with a significant disability that is likely to be permanent may qualify for NDIS support. 

The NDIS does not replace mental health services. The types of support available from the NDIS include:

  • support in the home – for example, someone comes into the home to help with everyday tasks
  • help with school or looking for a job
  • help with appointments and activities in your local community
  • learning new skills like cooking, using computers or managing your money

Mental health services including Mental Health Respite: Carer Support, Personal Helpers and Mentors and Partners in Recovery are transitioning to the NDIS.

For more information about the NDIS, visit www.carersnsw.org.au/ndis.

One Door Mental Health 

One Door (formerly Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW) has a range of services on offer for people living with mental illness as well as their families and supporters. One Door can offer carers education, support groups, a break and advocacy. The majority of One Door staff have lived experience as consumer or carers. Visit their carer page here

Transcultural Mental Health Centre 

The Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC) works with people from culturally and linguistically (CALD) diverse communities. Their Carer Support Program provides support and information for people from diverse backgrounds who are looking after someone with a mental illness, co-existing condition such as a drug or alcohol issue and mental health condition or problem gambling issue. Read more about the program here.

Mensline

MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with family and relationship concerns. The line is available 24/7 on 1300 78 99 78. Online and video chat is also available.

Everymind- Partners in Depression

Everymind (formerly Hunter Institute of Mental Health) is an Institute dedicated to the prevention of mental ill-health and suicide. Everymind developed Partners in Depression, a group education program designed to address the needs of those who love, live with or care for a person experiencing depression. The program is available across NSW and you can read more here.

Way Ahead - Mental Health Association NSW

Way Ahead provide a range of mental health information on their website, including a directory for mental health services in NSW here. WayAhead also offer free anxiety support groups and self-help anxiety courses throughout NSW.

NEAMI

Neami National is a community mental health service supporting people living with mental illness to improve their health, live independently and pursue a life based on their own strengths, values and goals.

Flourish 

Flourish (formerly Richmond PRA) provide a range of services to people living with a mental illness, including support to find and maintain employment. You can call a Flourish on 1300 779 270 or contact them online

Blue Knot Foundation

Blue Knot Foundation supports adults who have experienced childhood trauma (including abuse) as well as their families and carers.

Blue Knot Helpline (1300 657 380) is staffed by professional counsellors who provide short-term telephone counselling, information and support for family, friends and loved ones. They also have useful resources on their website for families,friends and partners. Check them out here.

Family Drug Support

Family Drug Support (FDS) mission is to assist families throughout Australia to deal with alcohol and drug issues in a way that strengthens relationships and achieves positive outcomes. FDS is primarily made up of volunteers who have experienced having family members with drug dependency. Call their 24 hour/7 day a week Support Line on 1300 368 186 or contact them online here.

Butterfly Foundation

The Butterfly Foundation supports people affected by eating disorders and negative body image and their families.

The Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders (CEDD)

Supporting someone you care about who is experiencing an eating disorder can be challenging. 'Navigating Their Way to Health', is a new online resource developed by The Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders (CEDD) to assist carers with information on how to best support their loved one and understand the recovery journey. You can download the resource here

GROW Australia

Grow is a community based organisation that supports people with a mental illness to recover through a peer-based support program. It is free to participate in Grow programs.  There are no assessments, no need for a diagnosis and no strict eligibility criteria. You can find local Grow groups here

Services for young people

Headspace

Headspace is focused on improving the wellbeing of young people. Headspace provides information for families and carers on their website here. They have centres across NSW which young people and families can visit to seek advice about mental health issues. Visit their website for locations and further info. 

ReachOut

ReachOut is Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents. They offer practical support, tools and tips help young people get through anything from everyday issues to tough times. They also support parents and professionals to help the young people they care for. 

Kids Helpline

Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. Children and young people can contact Lifeline at any time for any reason.

Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI)

COPMI provides information to kids and young people about mental illness.

The Brave Program

The BRAVE Program is an interactive, online program for the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent anxiety. The programs are free, and provide ways for children and teenagers to better cope with their worries. There are also programs for parents.

Online self-help

Sane Carers Forum

Sane host an online forum for carers. The Carers Forum is a safe, anonymous community for the friends, family and carers of living with mental illness, moderated 24/7 by mental health professionals. 

Family Drug Support- Online 

Australian interactive online resource designed specifically to support families struggling to deal with drug and alcohol problems.

Mental Health Online

Mental Health Online is an online mental health service offering information, assessment and online treatment programs (“eTherapy”) for a range of anxiety disorders. The programs take the form of weekly online modules. They can be worked through either individually or under the guidance of a therapist.

e-couch

e-couch provides information about emotional problems  as well as exercises to help you understand yourself and others better. It also evidence-based strategies that might help you to improve your life. 

MoodGYM 

moodgym is like an interactive self-help book which helps you to learn and practise skills which can help to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

OnTrack

OnTrack aims to support the Australian community to achieve mental and physical health and wellbeing. OnTrack offers free access to online programs, information, quizzes and advice that aim to provide people with the informations and skills that will enable them to manage their own problems, helping them to keep their lives “On Track”.

Help in a crisis

Lifeline

Lifeline provides all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour support and suicide prevention. Call 24/7 on 13 11 14 or online chat from 7pm- midnight.

Suicide Call Back Service

The Suicide Call Back Service is a 24/7 nationwide service that provides free telephone, video and online counselling to anyone in Australia who is aged 15 years and older. Carers can call anywhere and anytime on 1300 659 467. Professionally trained counsellors have specialist skills in working with suicide-related issues and work with people experiencing distress and their families. 

Carer friendly mental health services

As a carer you should be treated with respect and dignity, and have your views and needs taken into account by the professionals that support the person you care for. 

Carers NSW believes that families and carers can play key role in the recovery of the person with a mental illness, and we advocate for families and carers to be identified and considered as partners in care in the delivery of mental health services. 

A lot of services do great work with families and carers and may provide services to carers as well as people living with mental illness. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for family and carers to feel that they are being excluded from mental health services and carers may not feel that they are not able to get the information that they need.  

Carers NSW advocates for carers of people living with a mental illness to be support by Governments, services and the community. You can read more about our Policy work at www.carersnsw.org.au/policy.

NSW Mental Health Commission

The NSW aims to create positive change in the mental health system in NSW by working in partnership with people living with mental illness, family members and friends 

In 2017 the Commission hosted a forum for carers and you can watch video messages from mental health carers who attended. Watch their messages for

 

  • mental health workers
  • families and friends. 
  • GPs
  • Ministers and policy makers
  • psychiatrists

 

Keep an eye on the Commission’s website for opportunities to contribute. 

Guide for mental health services working with carers

In 2016 a group of mental health organisations including Mind Australia, Helping Minds, Private Mental Health Consumer Carer Network, ARAFMI and Mental Health Australia published a Practical Guide for working with carers of people with a mental illness, a useful resource for mental health services which promotes simple strategies that can be implemented to work with carers, including dealing with issues around confidentiality and information sharing. 

Your rights and mental health law

If the person you care for accesses treatment in a public hospital, it is good to be aware of the Mental Health Act 2007. The Mental Health Act 2007 describes how and when someone can be admitted into a mental health facility against their wishes. It outlines how consumers (person living with mental illness) should be treated, and their right to have their views taken into account.  It also outlines the rights of carers when the person they care of is being treated in a mental health facility. 

Understanding your rights and the rights of person that you care for can be tricky. The law is complicated and has been updated recently. Even mental health professionals may not be fully across it! If you need a hand understanding your rights you can contact Legal Aid Mental Health Advocacy Service on 9745 4277

Rights of carers in NSW mental health law

The importance of carers is recognised in the NSW Mental Health Act 2007. In Section 68, ‘Principles for care and treatment’ the Act states that:

(j) the role of carers for people with a mental illness or mental disorder and their rights under this Act to be kept informed, to be involved and to have information provided by them considered, should be given effect.

Under the Act a consumer (ie. person living with a mental illness) can nominate their designated carer, i.e. the person the mental health facility will contact, share information with and involve in the consumer’s treatment and discharge planning, if the consumer does not have a guardian or is over 18 years of age. Consumers are also able to exclude a person or persons who they do not wish to receive information about them or their treatment. Consumers can nominate up to 2 designated carers. NSW Health have developed a ‘Nomination of designated carer form’ for consumers to fill out, nominating their preferred carer/s. 

Carers who have not been nominated by the consumer still have rights if an Authorised Medical Officer (AMO) says that they are a principal care provider. The AMO must establish that the principal care provider is the person primarily responsible for providing care to the individual. The principal care provider will then be entitled to receive information and be included, and has the same rights as the designated carer. The principal care provider and designated carer may be the same person. 

There is also a requirement for AMOs and other medical practitioners to consider information provided by designated carers, principal care providers, or any relative or friend when they are making a decision to detain or discharge a consumer. 

Read more about carers rights under the Act on this carers in this factsheet produced by Way Ahead

Read more about carers rights under the Act on the NSW Government website: 'Understanding the Mental Health Act (2007)'. There is fact sheet for carers as well as useful FAQs. 

Read the Mental Health Act 2007 in full

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Carers NSW acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land, Elders past and present and all Aboriginal people.