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Seeking Help
Do you or someone you know need help?

Many people find it hard to seek help for a mood disorder. In spite of a growing awareness of depression and bipolar disorder, misunderstandings persist – and these can deter people from seeking help as readily as they would for other more obviously ‘physical’ illnesses.

In this section we aim to lead you through the logical steps involved in seeking help, and to provide you with information and explanations of the different steps along the way. We also recognise that for most people, ‘help’ involves a combination of approaches. So you’ll find information on both professional help and other forms of help.

Please note that the information in this section (or anywhere on this site) is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, so please see a qualified health provider if you have any health concerns.

When to seek help

Everybody feels down or sad at times. But it’s important to be able to recognise when depression has become more than a temporary thing, and when to seek help.

The following are a list of the features that may be experienced by someone with depression.

  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in mood control
  • Varying emotions throughout the day
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Reduced ability to enjoy things
  • Reduced ability to tolerate pain
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Loss of motivation and drive
  • Increase in fatigue
  • Change in movement
  • Being out of touch with reality.

As a general rule of thumb, if your feelings of depression persist for most of every day for two weeks or longer, and interfere with your ability to manage at home or outside the home, then you would benefit from assessment by a skilled professional.

It’s also important to recognise that many of the above features could be caused by or related to other things, such as a physical illness, the effects of medications, or stress. A trained professional will help in assessing such things.

Allow yourself to seek help. Struggling on alone can prolong the depression.

When to seek help for bipolar disorder

If you have experienced an episode of mania or hypomania, it’s best to seek professional help as soon as possible. It may indicate that you have bipolar disorder, which, if left untreated, will likely involve further episodes of mania or hypomania. Bipolar disorder is not an illness which goes away of its own accord but which often needs long-term treatment.

    1. High energy levels – with the individual feeling ‘wired’ and ‘hyper’, extremely energetic, experiencing racing thoughts, talking more and talking over people, making decisions in a flash, being constantly on the go, and feeling less need for sleep.
    2. Positive mood – feeling confident and capable, optimistic, that one can succeed in everything, more creative, more happy and perhaps feeling ‘high as a kite’.
    3. Irritability – reflected in irritable, impatient and angry behaviours.
    4. Inappropriate behaviour– becoming over involved in other people’s activities, by increased risk taking (including over indulging in alcohol and drugs and gambling excessively), saying and doing outrageous things, spending more money, having increased libido; dressing more colourfully and with disinhibition.
    5. Creativity – experienced as ‘seeing things in a new light’, seeing things vividly and with crystal clarity, finding one’s senses are heightened and feeling quite capable of writing the ‘great Australian novel’.
  1. Mystical experiences – can be experienced by believing that there are special connections between events, that there is a higher rate of coincidence between things happening, feeling intensely at one with nature and appreciating the beauty of it and the world around, believing that things have special significance.

More extreme expressions of mania (but not hypomania) may have the added features of delusions and hallucinations.

Accurately diagnosing bipolar disorder is a task for a professional. A first step is to see your local GP, who will likely refer you to a psychiatrist for assessment and treatment.

Where to seek help

A good first place to start in getting help is to visit your local general practitioner (GP). Let him or her know if you think you might have depression or bipolar disorder. Your GP will either conduct an assessment of you, or refer you to someone else, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

If you have depression, your GP may recommend some psychological intervention, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or interpersonal therapy, and might prescribe antidepressant medication to relieve some of the symptoms of depression.

Because mental health problems are common issues in general practice these days, many GPs are used to dealing with depression and other mental health problems. Some take a special interest in mental health issues and undergo additional training in the area. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your own GP, find another one with whom you do feel comfortable. It is important that you feel comfortable talking about how you are feeling with your GP so they have as much information to help you as possible.

If you are having trouble tracking down such a GP, you could telephone general practices in your area to find out whether any doctors in that practice have a particularly strong interest in mental health and, if so, whether they are taking on new patients. (Ask to speak to the practice manager.)

beyondblue has a national listing of health practitioners with an interest and/or expertise in the treatment of depression and anxiety. This list is searchable by suburb and so is a useful way of finding practitioners in your local area.

Psychologistspsychiatrists and counsellors are other professionals trained to provide help for depression and mood disorders. You will need a referral from your GP to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist (and this will either eliminate or reduce costs).

Social workers, occupational therapists and registered nurses are also trained in mental health.

Support Groups

Support group is a small group of people with a particular condition, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, who meet regularly to discuss their their experiences, their problems and their strategies for coping. Some support groups meet online.

What are the benefits?

Research shows that hearing from and sharing with others with similar experiences can be very helpful. A support group can provide the following gains:

  • show you that you are not alone
  • help develop new skills in relating to others
  • permit you to ‘open up’ and discuss your situation and feelings
  • give practical skills and advice – such as how to draw up and stick to a treatment plan
  • provide new coping strategies – share your solutions and learn from others’ experience
  • offer a safe place to sound off about frustrations of living with a disorder
  • supply strategies for managing any stigma associated with your disorder
  • strengthen motivation to stick with a treatment plan.

Support groups for family and friends

Family members/friends can also benefit from their own support group:

  • they learn more about the disorder and become more constructively involved in recovery
  • they hear of new strategies for coping, reducing stress and getting community resources
  • they gain increased appreciation of the importance of sticking with a treatment plan.

Remember, help is always close

Find a Professional
Find a medical or allied health professional in your local area

Find a professional

Directory of medical and allied health practitioners in mental health.

This directory is designed to help you find a medical or allied health professional in your local area who can help to diagnose, treat and manage your depression and/or anxiety.

Please note, this directory is not an endorsement of the health professionals listed or the services they provide. The health professionals who appear on the directory are those who have chosen to provide us with their details. We are not responsible for keeping the information up to date, although we make regular requests for listed health practitioners to do so.

LIVIN Partnerships