elderly man getting out of bed

Caring for someone with a mental health condition

Caring for someone with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety can be challenging. There are a number of resources and support to help you in your caring role.

You can also visit the Head to Health website for comprehensive resources and information about mental health conditions.

Treatments

If you’re caring for an older person with a mental health condition, the treatment they receive will be the same as for any other age group. Treatment depends on their symptoms, and may include:

  • healthy lifestyle changes such as getting plenty of exercise and having good nutrition
  • counselling to help the person address practical problems and conflicts, and to understand the reasons for their illness
  • psychological interventions to help the person understand their thoughts, behaviour and relationships with other people
  • medications to reduce or remove symptoms such as depressed feelings, restore normal sleep patterns and appetite, and reduce anxiety. Medications often take time to have a positive effect; generally people begin to feel better within six weeks.

When professional help is needed

The person you care for may feel embarrassed about asking for help. In some cases, they might not even know they have a mental health condition, but may worry about physical symptoms such as headaches or chest pain. These symptoms are often experienced with anxiety and other mental health conditions.

It’s important to always have new physical symptoms assessed by a doctor. If a person complains of chest pain, seek medical advice to make sure they are not having heart problems.

If their symptoms are severe, get worse quickly or last longer than 10 minutes, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile, try calling 112.

How you can help

It’s important to help the person you care for understand that getting help is not a sign of weakness. Talk to their doctor, nurse or mental health professional about treatment options. To get a positive outcome from treatment:

  • develop a trusting relationship with a health professional and work together to find a suitable treatment
  • identify and work on factors which may have contributed to the mental health condition
  • continue with treatment for as long as needed.

Make sure you have the written consent of the person you are caring for to speak to their health professional. Talk to the health professionals to find out the best way to do this. Carer Gateway has more information on talking to health professionals.

Support groups can help

There are groups run by people who have experienced mental health conditions and have developed successful support networks. These include self-help and mutual support groups, and mental health consumer organisations.

Support groups can meet by phone, face-to-face or online. Others provide formal information and referral services for personal support, or postal or telephone information for you or your family or partner. They may also suggest clinics, after-hours crisis lines and information about the treatments available to give you extra support.

Social support

Making and keeping good friendships is very important when you have a mental health condition. Encourage the person you care for to make the most of family, friends and local community groups. Try not to let them become isolated.

Last reviewed: 3 May, 2018.