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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I care for someone with mental illness?

    Related Topic
    I suspect that my 17 year old brother is suffering from mental illness and my parents and I are wondering what the best approach is to caring for him and encouraging hm to seek help as he is very resistant. Any advice is much appreciated!
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  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    This is a really challenging situation - not easy! One way to encourage your brother to seek help may be to talk to him about what he thinks the problem is - for example, although you may not get far trying to persuade him that he has a mental illness, he might agree that he is having difficulties with motivating himself to study or work, for example, or in managing relationships. He may be open to the idea of talking to a counsellor about this, who can then encourage him to seek medical and psychological treatment as well if they assess this may be needed.

    Something else to try is to let him know what your concerns are - for example, “I'm really worried that you're becoming more isolated from your friends lately”. Keep your observations based on facts about what you've noticed him doing, and be careful to avoid making interpretations about what the behaviour might mean (i.e. that he may have a mental illness). If you need extra support to get the message across effectively, family counselling can help by giving everyone the space to express their concerns and hear others' perspectives. Your brother may be more receptive to attending counselling to talk about ‘family issues’ rather than feeling he is the primary focus.

    If things are more serious - that is, if you think your brother may be at risk of suicide, or of hurting someone else, talk to your GP about your concerns. Altermatively, you can ring Suicideline on 1300 651 251, a telephone crisis support service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The counsellor will ask you questions that will help to assess how high the risk is, and can activate mental health emergency response services if necessary.

    Last but not least - it may be really important for you and your parents to access some support for yourselves. Services such as Beyond Blue http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx provide information, initial screening and links to relevant health services, as well as support not only for people with mental health issues, but for their families/carers as well.

    All the best, Vivienne Colegrove

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