How to handle mental illness in friends and family members

Mental illness is a delicate subject because of how misunderstood it is by those who have never experienced it first-hand. With issues like depression and anxiety often dismissed by elements of society that see it as an excuse not to participate in society through work and other means it can be hard to shift stigmas so that people get the help they need.

Mental illness is definitely real and is experienced by more people than you might think. The human brain is far from fully understood by medical scientists and what they do know about mental illness is applied differently with different people.

For example, no two people will have the exact same form of schizophrenia. While their symptoms might be very similar the chemical makeup in their brain that causes those symptoms won’t be identical.

How do you know if someone is mentally ill?

It really depends on the mental illness, as some may be impossible to detect unless you are the one experiencing it. Many people who have mental illness but don’t know their diagnosis might be confused about what’s wrong with them and potentially end up self-diagnosing with what they think is wrong with them.

While doing research is part of being a good health consumer it can often lead non-experts to attempt to diagnose themselves or others. This is especially problematic in the case of mental illness as some people worryingly see it as a personality quirk.

The truth is that mental health should only be dealt with professionally by a trained doctor. A GP will be trained in how to test for common signs of mental illness with a form the patient fills out.

Depending on the score the patient gets the doctor will refer them to a psychiatrist who can meet with the patient and give them a professional diagnosis.

How is it treated?

In treating mental health issues the psychiatrist may prescribe the patient with medication that is designed to stabilise their mood or curb their illness in some other way. Many of these medications will have side effects such as increased propensity to gain weight, so patients need to carefully read the documentation they are provided with.

Secondary to medication is therapy with a trained psychologist. A psychologist is not a doctor and this does not diagnose conditions or prescribe medication.

However a psychologist is specially trained in how use behavioural and cognitive therapies to help patients curb symptoms of their mental illness. Patients are often taught skills they can use in their everyday life to help them as well as building a report with a professional who can give emotional support.