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Mental illness: Supporting others to wellness

By Katie Godfrey
OzHelp Foundation Counsellor

For a long time, mental health concerns were not discussed openly because of stigma associated with the topic. Negative views about mental health were often, and still are, due to misunderstandings, cultural beliefs, misconceptions and/or lack of knowledge about mental health conditions and the associated signs and symptoms.

As an example, if an individual breaks their leg, the treatment process is fairly straightforward – go to hospital, receive medical treatment and begin recovery. Unlike concerns with our physical health, such as broken bones, a mental health concern may not be treated in a timely manner and the pathway to recovery may not seem as straightforward.

At times, mental health concerns are ignored, or may even be deliberately covered up. The signs and symptoms can go unrecognised or be wrongly attributed to a stage of life or even personality traits.

Being able to recognise and respond appropriately to some of the common signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are a good first step in supporting ourselves and others to wellness.

Below we’ve listed some signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone is struggling with a mental health condition.

Feeling overly anxious or constantly worried

We all get worried or stressed from time to time. This is usual. But anxiety could be the sign of a mental health issue if it’s constant and regularly interferes daily living. Other symptoms of anxiety may include avoidance, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, restlessness, diarrhoea or a racing mind.

Feeling depressed or constantly unhappy

Have you noticed that the person has lost interest in things they once enjoyed? If they’ve also seemed sad or irritable for a month or more and are lacking in motivation and energy, they might be dealing with depression.

Emotional outbursts

Everyone has different moods, but sudden and dramatic changes in mood, such as extreme distress or anger, can be a symptom of stress and mental illness.

Sleep problems

Generally, we need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Enduring changes to a person’s sleep patterns such as sleeplessness, or disrupted sleep could be a symptom of a mental illness.

Significant weight or appetite changes

Many of us want to lose a few kilos, but for some people fluctuating weight or rapid weight loss/gain could be indicative of a mental concern, such as depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. Other mental health issues can impact appetite and weight too.

Quiet or withdrawn

We all need quiet time occasionally, but withdrawing from life and people, particularly if this is a significant change, could indicate a mental health issue. Reluctance to join in (especially previously enjoyed) social activities, may be a sign that a person needs additional support.

Substance abuse

Are you worried a loved one is drinking too much? Using substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to cope can be a sign of, and a contributor to, underlying mental health issues.

Feeling guilty or worthless

Powerful and intrusive thoughts such as ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s all my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all possible signs of a mental health issue, such as depression. Help may be needed is a person is frequently criticising or blaming themselves and can’t balance this out with their strengths and positive qualities.

Changes in behaviour or feelings

Mental illness may start out with subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking and behaviour. Ongoing and significant changes that persist over time, could be a sign that they have or are developing a mental health issue. If something doesn’t seem ‘quite right’, it’s important to start a conversation about getting help.

How you can help

Clear, healthy communication can be a struggle for many of us, especially if it’s around a difficult topic. This can be even more the case with people struggling with a mental health concern.  Some people don’t have the motivation to communicate, while others lack the confidence to say what they really want to. Many of us fear being judged by others, and hold back.

To help the person communicate, give them plenty of time to make themselves heard and let them know that you are open to what they have to say. Remember, some people with mental health problems can feel isolated and cut off from other people, including peers, family and friends so it’s hard to trust and reach out.

It’s important to listen carefully and to let them express themselves. Try paraphrasing back what they say in order to show that you have understood them. Encourage and reassure them if they get upset or appear to be struggling with their emotions. Try not to minimise or dismiss their struggles or indicate that their thoughts and feelings are wrong.

Most importantly, please remember that support services are available so if you or someone you know requires urgent advice, please contact the following national 24/7 crisis services.

Lifeline 13 11 14 lifeline.org.au
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 mensline.org.au

For more information about OzHelp Foundation and its services please call us on 1800 694 357



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