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Helping someone navigate the next steps

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When someone you support tells you that they may have a mental health challenge, it’s an important step. Having that first conversation and deciding to seek help can make a big difference in helping them feel less alone and more supported.

But what then? And how can you help?

Getting informed

A good first step is to find information about what they are experiencing and what support is available. You may choose to do this together or by yourself, if they are happy with that. It's important to find sources you can trust. A good place to start is this website. Head to Health can help you find phone lines, online and digital resources, or health professionals.

You can encourage the person you are supporting to try the Head to Health quiz to find support services and resources. You can also offer to help them complete the quiz.

Making an appointment

For some, talking to a mental health professional is the next step. A GP, psychologist or professional working in a mental health service can provide an initial assessment and help to plan next steps. If you’re helping the person you support find a health professional, there are a few pathways you can take:

  • using the GP directory tool to find a regular GP or GP practice in their area, if they don’t already have one
  • taking recommendations from friends and family
  • contacting the Head to Health phone service on 1800 595 212 for advice and connection to local mental health services 
  • contacting your local community mental health centres directly
  • using a guide, such as the Healthdirect service finder.

When you find a health professional or service they would like to access, you could help them to make an appointment and prepare for it. That way, they have an idea of what to expect.

Find out more about navigating mental health services.

A health professional should provide:

  • a respectful relationship
  • support
  • a thorough assessment, which may include referral to other providers
  • ongoing care
  • confidentiality, and
  • collaboration with any other healthcare providers and support people involved.

Ultimately, it’s up to the person you support to decide if the service or health professional is the best fit for them. It may take a few tries before they settle on someone they’re happy to talk to and be open with.

A thorough mental health assessment can take some time.

It may take a few appointments before a treatment plan or a diagnosis can be made. It may also include consultations with other mental health specialists. There can be waiting periods for appointments, too.

The person you care for can continue to access support during this process. If there are waitlists, they can try booking a few services so they’re seen as soon as possible. They can also look for resources, supports, and tips on boosting their wellbeing.

The Head to Health quiz is a good place to start.

Supporting someone to see a health professional

If the person you care for agrees to it, you can go with them to appointments. Discuss beforehand how involved they would like you to be. For example, they might like you to attend the appointment with them, or they may ask you to wait in the waiting room, or not to come at all.

If you do attend, remember that the person you’re supporting is in the driver’s seat. They should do the talking, if possible.

If you are present during an appointment, there are many supportive things you can do:

  • Encourage them to be actively involved in their treatment and care.
  • Ensure they have the final say on what gets shared.
  • Observe, listen, and learn about how to support them outside of the session.
  • Take notes and ask questions about anything you’re unsure about.

If the person you care for becomes distressed, you can offer support, but it’s important to follow the health professional’s directions. It can sometimes be important for treatment to sit with painful feelings or distress (such as anxiety), rather than try to get rid of them.

Communicating with the health professional can help you understand what’s happening with the person you support. But getting information can sometimes be complicated. They need to balance their patient’s right to confidentiality with your role in supporting them. Many will share information, but some may be unwilling to, even with the other person’s consent.

Be persistent and proactive by:

  • letting the health professional know how much you want to be involved
  • taking part in some appointments, if the person you support agrees
  • asking for advice on how best to support them
  • asking questions, and
  • providing relevant information when necessary, while being mindful of what the person you support would like shared.

Find out more about your rights as a carer.

A diagnosis by a health professional:

  • is only made after a thorough assessment of a person’s physical and mental health
  • allows them to plan treatment
  • reflects a person’s symptoms at a particular time and can change over time; people can and do recover
  • does not define a person
  • might be required to access services or funding.

If the person you support is diagnosed with a mental health condition, it’s good to find out more about what that means and what to expect. Discuss the diagnosis with them, the care and support they need, and how they would like you to be involved.

Find out more about what you can do after a diagnosis.

Providing support during treatment

An important part of caring for someone after they’ve received a diagnosis is supporting their treatment process. Different treatment plans will require different levels of support.

You may need to:

  • encourage them to follow their prescription, keep up with any treatment, and keep appointments
  • recognise that they will have ups and downs and their willingness to continue seeking help may go up and down 
  • monitor for side effects or unexpected behaviour changes when taking medication
  • support them between sessions, as they work through what has been discussed and put strategies in place.

Medication can affect a person’s ability to function, so it’s important to be patient and understanding. 

At the same time, you need to be mindful of your boundaries and theirs. Looking after someone doesn’t mean you forget to look after yourself, nor does it mean taking over. It’s important to have a relationship built on respect, and to talk with each other about what is helpful and what is not.

It can be an emotional time – sometimes frustrating or challenging, sometimes uplifting and rewarding. Remember that treatment can improve the wellbeing of the person you support and, in turn, help you in your role as carer. By being there and providing support, you’re making a positive impact.


Looking after yourself

While caring for someone is rewarding, it can be physically and emotionally challenging. Don’t forget to take some time to look after your own mental health and wellbeing.

Find out more about looking after yourself while caring for someone else.