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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, but you're not alone. There are a number of resources and support to help you in your caring role.

You can also visit the healthdirect website for comprehensive resources and information about these mental health issues.

Behaviour and health care advice

What treatments are available?

If you're caring for an older person with a mental health condition such as depression, the treatment they will receive will be the same as for any other age group. Treatment depends on their symptoms, but may take one or more of the following forms:

  • healthy lifestyle changes such as getting plenty of exercise and having good nutrition
  • general supportive counselling to help the person sort out practical problems and conflicts, and to understand the reasons for their illness
  • psychological interventions to help the person understand their thoughts, behaviour and interpersonal relationships
  • medications that may reduce or eliminate symptoms such as depressed feelings, restore normal sleep patterns and appetite, and reduce anxiety. Medications take different time periods to have a positive effect; however, generally people begin to feel better within six weeks.

When is professional help needed?

The person you care for may feel embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. In some cases, they might not even know they are experiencing it, but may be worried about bodily symptoms such as headaches or chest pain. These symptoms are often experienced in 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.

What can I do to 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 different treatment options. The greatest contribution to a positive outcome from treatment comes from:

  • developing a trusting relationship with a health care professional and working together to find a suitable treatment
  • identifying and working on factors which appear to have contributed to the mental health condition
  • continuing with treatment for as long as is necessary.

Make sure you have the written consent of the person you are caring for to speak to their health professional. It is a good idea to talk to the health professionals to find out the best way to do this.

Resources and support

Are there any support groups that can help?

There are groups run by people who have experienced a mental health condition and have developed successful support networks. These include self-help and mutual support groups or associations, 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 for your family or partner. They may also suggest clinics, after-hours crisis lines and information about the treatments available to give you extra support.

What else may help?

Maintaining and making 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.

Also make sure that you look after your own health and wellbeing while you are caring for someone.

Support for you

When you spend most of your time looking after other people it's easy to forget to look after yourself too. It is very important to take time to look after yourself, to help you stay fit, healthy and relaxed. Here are some tips to help you take care of your own health and wellbeing. There are also counselling and other support services available to help you.

Last reviewed: 30 June, 2015.