There are lots of things you can do if you feel unwell or have concerns, whether it be related to your mental health, drug use or both. If you are seeing a drug and alcohol worker, a mental health worker or if you have a regular GP, they are all good places to start. They can help you understand what is happening and why, and link you into the right supports.
If you are not seeing a worker, you can call a telephone helpline or visit one of the websites that are listed here. You will be able to find out what help is available in your area and what they can do for you.
Getting Help and Support
It's not always easy to work out where to go, especially if you have concerns about both your mental health and drug use. Do you go to a doctor, mental health service, drug treatment agency or a combination? Whatever the situation the main thing is that you contact someone.
It's normal to feel uncomfortable about getting help. Some people feel embarrassed, scared or even ashamed. Though it can be really hard, it's important not to let this stop you: everyone is entitled to help and support.
Some people believe that mental illness can't be managed or treated, and the only realistic thing you can do to deal with the symptoms is use drugs. If you get the right help, especially early on, things will get better. In fact many people fully recover.
For others, the symptoms come and go and treatment is about getting help when it's needed. Either way, most people feel a lot better with support and treatment.
What help is out there?
People with both mental health and drug use problems may need support from both drug and alcohol and mental health workers.
The first part of treatment usually involves assessment. This means having an interview with a specialist mental health or drug and alcohol worker. This will give them an opportunity to get to know you, find out what's been happening and help you link into the right service. If at any stage during your assessment you're unsure about what's happening, ask. Workers are there to answer any questions you've got.
At the end of the assessment, the specialist will talk to you about the type of support that's best for you.
Getting help from a mental health service usually involves a combination of things, including talking therapies, medications and group programs.
Talking therapies – by seeing a mental health worker (like a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, nurse or occupational therapist) you'll learn how to:
- Manage stress
- Deal with negative and uncomfortable feelings
- Cope with weird thoughts and hallucinations
Medications – there are a range of medications used to treat mental illness. Some of them help people feel better when they're really sad or depressed. Others are prescribed to turn off the voices, weird thoughts and visions. There are also medications to help people relax and those which can make you feel more stable when things are really up and down.
It's important to remember if you're prescribed medications that they can take some time to work (generally a few weeks), so try to be patient and talk to your psychiatrist or GP if things aren't getting any better.
Group programs – attending a group program run by a skilled therapist can help you to be well. Talking to others who have gone through similar experiences can be really helpful. Finding out what's worked for them and what hasn't will help you avoid any pitfalls.
Admission to hospital – In times when there is a crisis (e.g. someone is psychotic or threatening to harm themselves), that person may be admitted to a hospital as an inpatient. This usually lasts a few days, depending on a range of factors. It is an option for people who need to:
- Have time out
- Stabilise on their medication
- Get intensive treatment and support
Getting help from a drug treatment agency may involve a number of different things. Like mental health services, the first thing a worker is likely to do is an assessment so they can work with you to find out what type of support is best. For example:
Individual counselling – similar in some ways to the talking therapies provided by mental health workers, drug and alcohol counselling helps you work through issues on a 1-to-1 basis. Drug and alcohol counsellors will help you to:
- Reduce the harms associated with your drug use
- Identify triggers and develop strategies to avoid problems in the future
- Develop strategies to cut down or quit
Youth outreach – sometimes 1-to-1 support is provided on an outreach basis. This is where a drug and alcohol worker will come to you. Drug and alcohol outreach workers provide a listening ear, help people work through their issues (related to their drug use) and link them into other supports when they need them.
Group and self-help programs – these programs can be helpful in providing social support and a range of practical skills to help you change your drug use patterns.
Withdrawal support – withdrawal services can be provided in a supportive residential setting where you stay for approximately 7 days, or within your own home.
Pharmacotherapies – in some cases people are prescribed drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine. They are prescribed by specialist doctors, generally for those who have become dependent on opiates (e.g. heroin). The purpose is to provide a healthier and less risky alternative to illegal drugs.
People with both mental health and drug use problems may need support from both drug and alcohol and mental health workers. The important thing to remember is that if you are being supported by more than one worker / service, there will be someone who is your main contact. They will support you through the process as others may come and go.
Help for families and supporters
Often, when someone has problems with their mental health or drug use, the people closest to them can be very stressed and not know how to help. They might even respond in a way that is quite unhelpful.
Many services offer assistance to the person's family to help them understand what is going on, what sorts of treatments are being provided and how they can best provide support and assistance.
Patient privacy and confidentiality are important principles in any health service. Services need to seek your permission before disclosing any personal information to family members. However, often even the most general of information can be useful to family members, helping them to cope better and be more supportive.
You can get help from Family Drug Support or call 1300 368 186.