Ramsay Health Care

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a broad term used to describe a range of conditions including mood, anxiety and personality disorders. These illnesses can affect every part of your loved one’s life including their work, relationships and leisure time.

There are many myths about mental illness and what you have heard may not be true, so it is important to find out the facts.

Remember that people with a mental illness are not defined by their illness. They still have likes, dislikes, opinions, talents and skills. They are still mothers, brothers, friends, colleagues etc. Their rights and individuality need to be respected.

Understanding mental illness

A mental illness, like a physical illness, is manageable and treatable. Learning about the mental illness affecting your loved one may ease your fears about the unknown or unfamiliar. It is important for both you and your loved one to find out about the features and symptoms of the illness, treatment options and medications. 

Gather information from general practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, mental health organisations and/or internet sites. Keep a diary of any problems or symptoms you need to ask about. Write down questions as you think of them and add the answers when you have them. For example, finding out the warning signs of relapse.

Treatment options may include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, group programs, self-help approaches and/or stress management. With each of these treatments, make sure you understand what is being offered and how it will help. Combinations of these treatments may be the best approach.

A doctor or pharmacist will be able to give you information on medications and their side effects. Some of the things you need to know include:

  • the medication's name
  • what it is used for
  • how long it needs to be taken
  • what happens if a dose is missed
  • what are its side effects and what to do if the side effects arise
  • how could it interfere with other medications (including over-the-counter, supermarket and herbal preparations)
  • how it could affect any other illnesses your loved one may have
  • what should your loved one avoid while taking the medication (ie alcohol)
  • the cheapest brand.

When caring for a friend or relative, the carer's needs often get lost. In order to care for another, you also need to take care of yourself.