Worried about someone's mental health
This page can help you if you are worried that a friend, relative or loved one needs help for their mental health. It suggests what you can do and where to go to get help and support. It can be helpful for all mental health conditions but gives particular information on helping someone who is experiencing symptoms of psychosis.
- Changes in behaviour may mean your relative is developing a mental illness. These changes might be sudden, or develop over time.
- You can try to help your relative by encouraging them to get help from a doctor like a General Practitioner (GP).
- They may not want to see a doctor. You can try to ask for help yourself.
- You can try to contact the GP or local mental health services.
- It is important to look after your own mental health.
What are the signs that my relative might need help?
We all go through stressful events from to time that can change our normal behaviour. Short-term changes to behaviour are common. We may feel more stressed, angry or sad. These feelings are not always a sign of mental illness.
But changes in behaviour can be a sign that your relative is developing a mental illness. You may notice that they start to behave differently. You may see a change over a short time or over a number of months.
Below are some common changes to look out for. Your relative may:
- be anxious,
- be irritable,
- try to start arguments,
- have mood swings,
- sleep too much or too little,
- not want to be around other people,
- be less able to cope with work or studies,
- have concentration problems
- have memory problems
- eat more or less, or
- have suicidal thoughts.
The changes in your relative’s behavior may be easier to spot if your relative develops psychosis. Psychosis is a medical term. It means that your relative may hear or see things that aren’t there. It can also include unusual beliefs that you and other people don’t share.1 If your relative has psychosis they might:
- focus on odd ideas or beliefs,
- be suspicious and paranoid. Such as thinking people are talking about them,
- believe that friends or family members want to harm them,
- think that the TV is talking to them,
- believe they are on a special mission or have special powers,
- not talk to anyone or not want to leave their room for days,
- have problems concentrating or remembering things, or
- stop eating, washing or dressing properly.
How can I encourage my relative to get help?
If you’re relative is over the age of 18, they can’t be forced to have treatment they don’t want. They can only be forced to have treatment if they are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
You can try to help your relative by encouraging them to get help from their General Practitioner (GP). A GP can give treatment for some symptoms of mental health conditions. Or they can refer your relative to a psychiatrist.
Your relative might not want to visit their GP. They may:
• not think they are unwell,
• not realise a GP can help,
• understand they need help but feel too embarrassed or frightened to talk to a doctor.
Here are some thoughts, which may help you.
Imagine how you would feel in your relative’s situation. They might feel sensitive, anxious, frightened or confused.
- Remember they may feel you are ‘getting at them’. Be calm, patient and sympathetic.
- Try to bring up the subject when you are both relaxed and have time to talk.
- Be aware that if your relative has delusions or hallucinations, for them these things are really happening.
There are some things you could tell your relative.
- Stress, anxiety or other symptoms seem to be making it hard for them to cope as well as usual, and a doctor could help.
- You can go with them to a doctor’s appointment to support them.
- Many mental health problems can be treated. They might be worried they will have to go to hospital. This is unlikely if they get treatment.
- GP notes are confidential. This means the doctor can’t share information with anyone else unless they agree to it. The GP may have to share information with others if they feel someone is at risk of harming themselves.
My relative won’t get help. What can I do?
Your relative may not want to see a doctor. You can try to ask for help yourself.
You can write to your relative’s GP if you know who they are. Explain your concerns clearly. Keep to the facts and give examples. There are some examples below.
• My daughter has left college because she believes all the staff are talking about her. She has stopped talking to all her friends. She won’t turn her phone on because she thinks that people can watch her through her phone.
• My son does not come out of his room except to get food when we are all asleep. He hasn’t washed for over 2 weeks. He avoids all of us. If he walks into the kitchen and someone is there he runs back into his bedroom. He keeps his door locked and won’t talk to us.
• My wife has started self-harming and takes a lot of time off work at the moment. She has started buying many packets of tablets and storing them. I found them and she got really angry with me for throwing them away. She gets so angry and starts smashing up the house. Every time I leave the house to go to work she starts crying and doesn’t want me to go.
It might help to give evidence of changes in your relative’s behavior. For example, your relative may have sent you an email, letter or text that seems odd or distressing. Keeping a diary of behaviour might help.
You should tell the GP if there is a history of mental illness in the family.
The GP might invite you to make an appointment to discuss your letter. Or you could try to make an appointment yourself. A GP may contact your relative to invite them for a checkup or they may agree to visit your relative at home. Although this is unlikely to happen without your relative’s consent.
Community Mental Health Team
A Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) is part of the NHS. Health professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists and community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) are found at the CMHT.
They can assess your relative’s mental health to decide on the best treatment and support for them.
How can my relative get a referral?
A GP will usually refer your relative to the CMHT for help. Your relative may be also be referred by social services. A referral means the healthcare professional passes your relative’s details to a team or service so they can make an appointment to see them.
Some CMHT’s will accept self-referrals. You can check this on the local mental health trust website. Or we could try to check this for you. You can contact us on 0300 5000 927.
You can write to the CMHT to explain your concerns. Even if your relative is not supported by them. But the CMHT may say they can’t get involved. It should be easier for you to share your concerns with the CMHT if your relative is already supported by them.
Early Intervention Team
Early intervention teams (EIT) are similar to CMHT, but they focus on treatment and support for people who are experiencing psychosis for the first time.
How can my relative get a referral?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that everyone experiencing psychosis for the first time should be referred to an EIT.2 It might help to point this out to your relative’s doctor. Some EIT’s only support people aged between 14 and 35 years old.
Your relative will usually need a referral from a health professional to get help from the EIT. GPs can make this referral. Sometimes early intervention teams will accept self-referrals or referrals from friends and family. You can check this on the local mental health trust website or we could try to check this for you. You can contact us on 0300 5000 927.
If you can’t refer your relative to the EIT, you can still write to them to explain your concerns. But the EIT may say they can’t get involved.
The crisis team is another team within the NHS. They are sometimes called ‘Crisis resolution home treatment teams’.
They offer short-term intensive support to people in a crisis. For example, they may be able to visit your relative at home to help them. This aims to reduce the number of people who have to go to hospital.
Your relative will usually need a referral from a health professional to get help from a crisis team. GP’s can make this referral, but sometimes they will accept self-referrals or referrals from relatives or friends. You can check on your local mental health trust website or we could check this for you. You can contact us on 0300 5000 927.
How do I get help in an emergency?
Your relative might need help quickly if it is an emergency, or they are very unwell. You could contact professionals such as:
- your relative’s GP,
- NHS 111 if your relative doesn’t have a GP,
- your relative’s community mental health team,
- your relative’s crisis team,
- your relative’s early intervention team, or
- take your relative to accident and emergency at hospital
In a life-threatening situation call 999 and ask for an ambulance. You may also need to ask for the police.
How can I ask for help outside of the NHS?
You could try to get your relative help from a local charity. Your relative might find a local charity less ‘clinical’ than a GP surgery. This may make them feel more comfortable. Charity support will be different across the country. But often they can help with recovery plans, one to one support and support groups.
Some charities can provide mental health treatments such as talking therapies, but they can’t prescribe medications.
Some charities may have contact with NHS mental health services. They could let mental health services know if your relative is unwell and they need a mental health assessment.
You can ask social services to carry out a social care assessment for your relative. This is called a ‘needs assessment.’ The assessment will work out if social services can support your relative in line with The Care Act 2014. Social services have to assess someone who has high care needs.
Social care support could be support in the home. Or help to use local facilities. Social services can’t give money for any treatment that your relative may need.
A social worker, or other professional from the local authority, will usually assess your relative. But social services can ask other services to do assessment instead of them.3 They may do this if other services have more experience in your relative’s area of need.4 For example, they may ask a community mental health team to do an assessment.
Social services won’t assess your relative if they don’t want social services.
How can I help someone who is not a friend, relative or loved one?
You might be worried about someone you don’t know very well. For example, a housemate, neighbour, tenant or colleague. It’s unlikely that you know who their GP is, or if they are getting help from mental health services.
If you feel someone is struggling with their mental health you can contact social services and tell them. Their contact details are usually on the Local Authority’s (LA) website. We can try to find these details for you if you contact us.
You may be concerned that someone is at risk because of their mental health. If you think someone is being abused you can report this to the adult safeguarding team, in social services. There are many different types of abuse. This includes:
- organisational abuse, and
If someone is not looking after themselves this may be neglect. You can tell the safeguarding team about this. You can find the details of the adult safeguarding team on your council website, or we can try to look for this information for you.
What things should I remember?
- Your relative might not want to go to their doctor. This can be difficult, as you cannot force someone to get help even if they are unwell.
- Your relative can only be forced to have treatment if they are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Someone can only be detained if they are a severe risk to themselves or other people.
- It can be useful to give doctors information on your relative’s health even if they won’t go to their GP. Your relative may decide to seek help later on.
- Some doctors think listening to the concerns of others about a patient breaches their duty of confidentiality. This is not true. Confidentiality rules do not stop a doctor listening to your concerns.
- A doctor or mental health team will need permission from your relative to share their personal information with you. You can still share concerns without this. But professionals won’t be able to tell you anything about your relative without their consent. They can only listen to you. This includes what they will do with your information.
- If you share concerns about your relative with professionals they may tell your relative. This could affect your relationship. You could ask the doctor to keep this confidential and to use the information sensitively.
- You may not know which GP surgery your relative is registered with. If you ask a surgery if your relative is a patient there the surgery will not usually be able to tell you this. If your relative has given them permission to share information they would be able to tell you.
- If your relative agrees to visit their GP you may be concerned that their GP won’t listen to them properly. Or you may be concerned that your relative won’t be honest. You could write to the GP before their appointment so that the GP understands your concerns.
- Try to get help for someone if you think that your relative has psychosis symptoms. Early support can help stop them from developing other health problems that are linked to psychosis. Getting help as soon as possible can increase your relative’s chance of recovery.
How can I get help for myself?
It is important to look after yourself. Trying to get help for someone who is unwell can be stressful. And can have an effect on your mental health.
You might be able to get help for your own mental health as a carer through the following ways.
- Your GP
- Charities, such as carer’s service
- Join a support group
- Learn about your relative’s condition. This could help you to manage it. NHS offer family intervention for some mental health conditions
- Training for carers
- Carers Assessment
How do I find charities and support groups?
There are services and groups for carers across the UK. These are often run by local charities or the NHS. They can be a useful way to meet other carers and get support, information and advice.
Rethink Mental Illness are linked to carers groups in some areas of the country. You can find groups by looking on the Rethink Mental Illness website. Below is the link to our website:
If there isn’t a group in your area the Rethink Mental Illness participation team can help you to set up your own group.
Rethink Mental Illness Participation Team
The participation team can help people to set up groups throughout England
Telephone: 01823 365 327,
Address: Rethink Mental Illness Groups, Paul's House, Tower Street, Taunton Somerset TA1 4BH.
How do I ask for a carers assessment?
You can also ask your local social services team for a ‘carers assessment’. This is similar to a social care assessment. Someone from the local authority will assess you to see if you need support in your caring role.