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Mental health

Mental health is central to your overall health and wellbeing. It includes your ability to manage the daily challenges and social interactions of life, and can also have a strong impact on your physical health. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five Australians will experience a mental health condition at some stage in their lives.

The most important thing to understand is that help and support is available. Whether you're living in your own home or in an aged care home, there are people you can talk with and therapies or other treatments that can help.

You will find some basic information below to direct you towards resources and support services.

What if I need help right now?

If you need to talk to someone immediately, contact one of the following:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • MensLine Australia (for men of any age) – 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Healthdirect Australia – 1800 022 222

These phone lines are available to anyone in Australia 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are free or the cost of a local call (some charges may apply to calls from mobiles).

There are also other support services and resources available. See the contact list at the bottom of this page.

What is a mental health condition?

A mental health condition is where there are changes in a person's thinking, feelings and/or behaviours usually associated with distress and difficulty with day-to-day living.

Visit the healthdirect website for more information about mental health conditions.

What are the different types of mental health conditions?

There are many different types of mental health conditions. You can find information and advice on the Department of Health website about some of the most common conditions, including:

Is there a link between ageing and depression?

Older people who are lonely and don't have strong social networks and support can be at risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression.

Depression is often not well recognised or detected in older people. Quite often symptoms of depression, such as problems with sleeping, memory or concentration are mistakenly dismissed as a result of growing older. Sometimes depression co-exists with dementia and this can make the specific diagnosis difficult.

Physical illness is also linked to depression. Things like being more dependent on others for care can lead to a sense of a loss of dignity and independence, which may cause people to become depressed.

Sometimes, the death of a partner or a close friend can leave you feeling sad. While it is normal to grieve for a loved one, the grief usually lessens over time. If the sadness persists for weeks or months you may be experiencing depression, so it is important to get professional help, like talking to your doctor.

How do I know if I need professional help?

People sometimes feel embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health condition. In some cases, you might not even know you're 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.

Getting help is not a sign of weakness – it's important to talk to a professional as soon as possible.

Of course, you should always have new physical symptoms assessed by a doctor. If you have chest pain, seek medical advice to make sure you're not having heart problems.

If your 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.

Who can help?

If you're experiencing any difficulties with your mental health, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can treat you or refer you to professionals and services in your area such as psychologists, psychiatrists and professional counsellors.

Or, you can visit healthdirect to search directories for medical and allied health practitioners in mental health and other professional support services.

Are there any support groups?

Maintaining and making good friendships is also very important to help you recover from a mental health condition. It can be easy to become bored, lonely or isolated. Many people find joining an activity or community group can help overcome these feelings, as it gives them a chance to meet new people, have fun and increase their confidence.

There are also groups run by people who have experienced a mental health condition and have developed a successful treatment plan. 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 treatments are available?

If you're an older person with a mental health condition, the treatment you receive will be the same as for any other age group. Treatment depends on your 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 you sort out practical problems and conflicts, and to understand the reasons for your illness
  • psychological interventions to help you understand your 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.

What else can I do to help my treatment?

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
  • reducing stress and learning how to manage stress
  • limiting your alcohol intake, if you drink
  • limiting your intake of nicotine, if you smoke
  • continuing with treatment for as long as is necessary.

How can I reduce my stress?

Finding ways to reduce and manage your stress can help you to protect your mental health. Try to identify things in your life that make you feel stressed and make changes to lessen these feelings. Getting enough sleep, doing physical activity such as swimming or tai chi, and eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can all help you to manage stress better.

Visit the Australian Government's healthdirect website for more information about causes, symptoms and treatments of stress.

Resources and support

There are a number of useful online resources that provide more information about mental health conditions and the help that is available:

  • beyondblue– an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in Australia
  • depressioNet – a comprehensive resource for information, help to access professionals, treatments and tools throughout Australia, as well as peer support through a message board and chat rooms
  • BluePages – information on treatments for depression
  • Black Dog Institute – a leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder
  • Mental Help Net – mental health and wellness education and advocacy
  • SANE Australia – a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life
  • Mental Health Foundation – an organisation of professionals, people with mental health conditions and their families, related organisations and members of the public
  • Lifeline – an organisation that provides access to crisis support, suicide prevention and mental health support services.

Last reviewed: 30 June, 2015.