O.K, so you think you (or someone you know) may be having a mental health problem – where to now?
You may recognise that you are feeling depressed, constantly anxious, having obsessive thoughts, experiencing delusions or other changes that lead you to wonder why you can’t ‘hold it together’. You may be finding life a bit too much to cope with or generally feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities. It can often take a while to realise that you need help but once you do, it’s important to know where help is available.
This fact sheet tells you where you can go, what you can do and has a list of some of the organisations that may be helpful in the pursuit of mental health support and information.
Your Local GP
One of your first options is to explain your symptoms and concerns to your local/family doctor.
A GP is able to refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor depending on your needs. A GP is also able to prescribe medication if they are familiar with the particular illness. It is usually appropriate to see a mental health professional for a more thorough assessment. They are qualified to prescribe medication and/or therapy recommendations depending on the type and course of your mental health problem. For the most common mental illnesses – depression and anxiety amongst others, some form of therapy such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or general counselling is often an essential adjunct to medication.
Community Health Centres
Alternatively you can go to your local Community Health Centre listed in the WayAhead Directory under Community Health. Most Community Health Centres have a mental health professional available to discuss symptoms and concerns. They may treat you within their team or refer you elsewhere for further assessment or treatment as appropriate.
What do you do if the person experiencing signs of a mental illness refuses to seek help and is behaving in a way that is preventing you from being able to communicate to them the importance of seeing a doctor?
If they are acting in a way that is potentially harmful towards themselves or others, you can call the crisis team at your local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). Many of these teams are available 24 hours. If your nearest CMHT doesn’t have one, you will be transferred to the closest Mental Health Team in your area.
Talk to the mental health worker about the situation and tell them all the things you are concerned about. Examples might be that the person is feeling suicidal, showing signs of paranoia, or experiencing hallucinations etc. It may be that you recognise symptoms they have experienced before when they may have had a period of illness. The crisis team is a mobile unit that may be able to come out and make an assessment in the person’s home, hospital emergency department or another suitable place.
It is helpful to provide a previous history to the Crisis Team so that they are able to determine when and if immediate care is required. This is particularly important if the person is reluctant to seek help once the illness (depression, psychosis, mania, panic attacks, etc.) develops further.
You may also ring the local police or ambulance if the person presents a danger to themselves or another person. They will perform an assessment of the person upon arrival and determine whether they should be taken to hospital for further treatment.
Admission to Hospital
If a person is considered by their doctor to be ill enough to require hospitalisation they can admit themselves voluntarily or they may be taken by relatives, friends or the crisis team to a hospital and admitted as a voluntary or involuntary patient. It is sometimes necessary for the crisis team to enlist the help of the police or an ambulance if the person is unwilling to go to hospital.
If the person is taken to hospital against their will they will be assessed by a doctor within 12 hours.
Admission procedures and the person’s voluntary or involuntary status are set out in the NSW Mental Health Act. If they are admitted as an involuntary patient they will be given a Statement of Rights.
To find out more about the Mental Health Act and patient rights, or procedures, you can contact the relevant hospital, the Mental Health Advocacy Service, Mental Health Review Tribunal or the Mental Health Information Service.