WHAT do you do when someone you love is in pain and doesn’t know how to seek help? Where do you start?
Matthew Newton, the 35-year-old son of Australian television icons Bert and Patti and a well-known actor in his own right, has thrown mental health into the spotlight in recent months.
Newton is known for directing, writing and starring in a number of Australian television shows and films, including Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities and the critically acclaimed Three Blind Mice.
He most recently made headlines in the USA – for the wrong reasons.
First he was arrested twice in Miami, Florida, following an incident on April 7 for trespassing and resisting police.
In a second incident on April 17, he was charged with assault and resisting arrest after attacking a hotel receptionist.
You can see the pain and anguish on his parents’ faces.
It’s the same pain etched on the faces of families across Australia who know their loved one is hurting but simply don’t know where to start when it comes to helping them.
Maybe that loved one doesn’t want the help, or doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem.
For those who know the pain Bert and Patti are living – or even just suspect something isn’t quite right with their loved one – it’s a bit like looking in the mirror. They recognise the fact Bert and Patti are tired, emotionally drained, possibly at their wits’ end and at the point where they have no idea how to save their son from himself.
This is a battle the family members of many fight.
Statistics from 2008, collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, revealed one in five Australians aged between 16 and 85 had a mental disorder.
Sarah Green, Hunter New England Health’s rural adversity mental health program officer, said there were no new statistics available that suggested the prevalence of mental health issues in rural areas was growing or higher than in metropolitan areas.
"Often the issue is compounded in rural areas because there isn’t the same access to support services," Mrs Green said.
She said the perception was that the issue of mental health was growing, but Mrs Green suggested this was probably due to the fact mental health was more talked about and publicised in the modern era.
"In the past if people had mental health problems, they were institutionalised and nothing was said," she said.
"Now it’s more talked about, there is growing awareness and more people are reporting mental health issues."
Mrs Green said with more talking about mental health, better outcomes could be achieved.
"If you think someone isn’t coping, ask them and really talk to them," she said.
"Put your concerns and the issue on the table, lead the horse to water and offer support."
Acknowledging people with problems may not want to admit they had them, Mrs Green suggested family and friends keep trying.
"If you think someone is at risk, then it’s not a secret," she said.
"Early intervention can help people get better outcomes."
She said statistics suggested 35 per cent of people who had common mental health problems didn’t seek help.
"The scary thing about that statistic is the other 65 per cent of people who have problems seek help, and we don’t have the health services to cope with that demand," she said.
Mrs Green said mental health deserved to be treated like a broken leg.
"If someone breaks a leg in a car accident and is sent to hospital, people send them a card, they go and visit and they check their recovery," she said.
"That doesn’t happen when someone has a mental health problem or depression. A depressed person returns to work and no one says anything and that adds to the stigma of having a mental health disorder."
While some of the stigma associated with mental health and mood disorders has dispelled in the past decade, a simple internet search proves a lot more could and should be getting done.
A quick Google search of mental health and mood disorders in the region returns nearly a million results in 0.54 seconds.
While this might seem helpful, on the first page the bulk of the results are advertisements for support services and one of the biggest problems, as the Newton family could attest, is recognising there is a problem and encouraging the person with the illness to seek help.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t people who live perfectly normal lives after a mental health diagnosis either; there are plenty of people out there who monitor and treat their mood disorders through medication and tireless work with medical practitioners and their families.
But for those who don’t, the biggest problem can be where to start.
In the NSW Health system you can’t force someone to seek treatment.
In most instances it has to be voluntary.
Anxiety disorders – such as panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder – are the most common mental illnesses, affecting about 14 per cent of all Australians. Affective disorders, like depression, affected 6 per cent and substance disorders 5 per cent of the population.
Women were more likely to experience mental disorders – 22 per cent – than men at 18 per cent.
Younger people aged between 16 and 24 were more likely to have a mental disorder than older people.
In the 12 months leading up to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health, 1.9 million people accessed services for mental health problems.
So how do you know someone you love has a problem, and what can you do to help?
In our region there are a number of support services available for patients under the Hunter New England Health banner.
Outside of the mainstream health services, there are a number of other not-for-profit services, including Lifeline, that are endeavouring to help people navigate their way through.
Under the state Mental Health Act, you can’t force someone to get help.
Many families living with mental health say this makes the process even harder, not only because it’s an illness the sufferer can’t control but also because sometimes it’s one they can’t completely recognise.
Some of the common things to look for include changes in feelings, changes in behaviour and changes in thinking.
In terms of feelings, some common things to look for are: feeling anxious or worried; tense or restless; irritable or quick to become aggressive; depressed or unhappy; and being paranoid.
Changes in thinking: difficulty concentrating or remembering things; difficulty making decisions; thoughts racing, slowing down or jumbled; negative, pessimistic thoughts; hearing voices not coming from other people; thinking about harming yourself and dwelling on past events.
When it comes to behaviour, things to look out for include: isolating oneself from others; increased or decreased appetite and sleep; increased risk-taking/dangerous behaviour; alcohol or illicit drug use; increase in emotional outbursts; reduced energy levels and motivation to participate in activities and interests; and difficulty looking after personal appearance and living environment.
TAMWORTH’S Billabong Clubhouse director Dale Cavanagh believes mental health issues in the Tamworth area are becoming more prevalent.
Mr Cavanagh said demand for the Clubhouse service had increased in recent times.
"It could be for two reasons: there is a lot more being done to create awareness but there is also an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with mental health issues," he said.
Tamworth’s Billabong Clubhouse helps people with mental illness from across the region to find their way back to meaningful participation in community life.
It provides psychosocial rehabilitation for people with a variety of mental illnesses and now has more than 250 members.
"The Clubhouse is a place where people who have experienced mental illness go to rebuild their lives," he said.
The participants are called members, not patients, and the focus is on their strengths rather than their illness.
Programs in the house provide a holistic approach to recovery.
Work – everything from clerical duties to meal preparation or supporting fellow members – provides the core healing process.
Of equal importance to achieving a work-ordered day is the establishment of personal relationships.
"The Clubhouse program helps members develop work habits and skills, and when they are ready they are given the opportunity to participate in jobs with full support from the Clubhouse," Mr Cavanagh said.
"Those jobs can be transitional and only for six to nine months or full-time employment, depending on the person’s wants and needs." Members can also receive help to secure housing, advance their education, obtain good psychiatric and medical care, and maintain government benefits.
"Membership is for life, so people have all the time they need to secure their new life in the community," Mr Cavanagh said.
"Sometimes we might not see a member for a while.
"Recently we had someone come back after five years."
At the moment there are 100 active Billabong members. An average of 30 people are using the service each day, double the number of people visiting each day five years ago – 12 in March 2005.
Mr Cavanagh said membership was expected to continue to grow and the statistics supported his thinking.
Each year, one in five Australian adults experiences a mental illness.
In the age group of 18 to 24 years, it is closer to one in four adults.
ALMOST 90 per cent of people who care for a relative with a mental health problem have reported a harmful impact on their own physical and mental health.
The Wesley Mission has released an eight-point plan to help support people caring for relatives with mental health issues, after a study of more than 1000 Australians revealed caring came at a profound personal cost.
The Wesley report, Keeping minds well: Caring til it hurts, showed that three in four caregivers believed their role as carer for the mentally ill person in their family had affected their relationships with other family and friends.
Another 57 per cent said their financial and employment situation had deteriorated, too.
Wesley chief executive officer, Reverend Dr Keith Garner, said the report revealed caregivers too often carried the cost of caring.
"They are the unsung heroes of the community," he said.
"They more often than not sacrifice their time, money and their careers to ensure that those they support can manage and fulfil their often challenging lives."
Dr Garner said an overwhelming number of respondents to the survey had declared their caring experience as a child had made a lasting negative impact on their adult life.
"The challenge for us as a community is to provide better support for these people and to reduce the stigma associated with caring," he said.
The report also found 64 per cent of carers had been in their caregiving role for more than six years.
Almost half – 43 per cent – indicated they had been caregiving for more than 10 years.
Among the recommendations from the report are a more cohesive approach among the health services, general practitioners and schools to identify young carers and ensure their needs are met through referrals to relevant services, support and advice.
The Wesley Mission has suggested that it be mandatory for teachers to be provided with an understanding of warning signs for children or young people who may be in distress from caregiving.
It also recommends professionals are not only informed about the experiences of patients but also about the experiences of family in the caring role.
"This could be implemented in the workplace and during the tertiary training of health, teaching and allied professionals, by ensuring a working understanding of appropriate responses," Dr Garner said.
What to look out for:
What’s happening in the person’s life? Have they experienced any life changes recently?
Recent loss – of a loved one, a job, an income/livelihood, relationship, pet
Major disappointment – failed exam, missed job promotion
Change in circumstances – separation/divorce, retirement, redundancy, children leaving home
Mental disorder or physical illness/injury
Suicide of a family member, friend or public figure
Financial and/or legal problems
People at risk of suicide usually give clues by the way they behave. These may include:
Previous suicide attempts
Being moody, sad and withdrawn
Talking of feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
Taking less care of themselves and their appearance
Losing interest in things they previously enjoyed
Difficulty concentrating and/or sleeping
Being more irritable or agitated
Talking or joking about suicide/death
Expressing thoughts about death through drawings, stories, songs etc.
Saying goodbye to others and/or giving away possessions
Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviour
Increasing alcohol/drug use
Services available through Hunter New England Health:
Mental health assessments are available through the emergency department at Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital
25-bed acute mental health unit, the Banksia Unit, at Tamworth Hospital designed to cater for the needs of people with mental health problems in the acute stage of their illness. Admission to Banksia may be voluntary or under the Mental Health Act. The unit is on the grounds of the Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital and staffed by a team of psychiatrists, resident medical officers, nurses and allied health professionals.
16-bed unit for older people suffering dementia and other age-related mental illnesses at Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital, Hilltop Lodge.
24-hour central intake telephone referral line operates provides referral to mental health services in the Peel, Tableland, Mehi and McIntyre areas (1300 669 757)
Community mental health services are based at Dean House on grounds of Tamworth Hospital, with a multi-disciplinary team including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and registered nurses. The service includes specialist mental health services for older people, children and adolescents and rehabilitation.
Community-based support for consumers, carers and families:
Billabong Clubhouse, funded through NSW Health, provides day rehabilitation programs and employment opportunities for people with mental health issues
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association offers support for people in public housing
Carer Assist staff are located in Tamworth, Warialda and Armidale
Carers NSW – 1800 242 636
The Richmond Fellowship provides supported accommodation for people with a mental illness
A HNEH family and carer social worker runs education and support groups for families and works with community mental health and non-government services
Statewide 24-hour emergency mental health care line – 1800 011 511
Where to go for help:
Mental Health Information Service – 1300 974 991
Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill – information and referral to relevant local services – 1800 655 198
Carers NSW – 1800 242 636
Carer Assist – information, support and referral – (02) 9816 5652
SANE Australia – 1800 688 382
Commonwealth Carers Respite – 1800 059 059
Kids Help Line (24 hours) – 1800 55 1800
Lifeline (24 hours) – 13 1114