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Are you or a loved one living with a mental health or substance use disorder?

Mental disorders are a common health problem around the world. People in every country and every culture are affected.

Mental illness – a global challenge

At any given time, about 1 person in every 10 worldwide is suffering from a mental disorder, and about 1 in 4 families has a member with a mental disorder. Over 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, and it is the second most common cause of death among 15–29-year olds. About three quarters of all suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Mental and neurological disorders affect people of all ages. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems, and roughly half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14.

Mental disorders can be treated successfully

The good news is that effective treatment is available through medicines and/or psychosocial treatment such as counselling. Early identification and effective management of mental disorders are key to ensuring that people receive the care they need.

You can refer to this factsheet for further information about mental disorders.

Below are some tips for individuals living with mental health or substance use disorders, as well as tips for friends and family members seeking to help a loved one.

Addiction Addiction

What is addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects a person’s brain and changes their behaviour. They have the irresistible urge to take a drug or engage in a certain behaviour (gambling, shopping, online gaming) to the point where it is resulting in physical, psychological and social harm. Like other mental disorders, addiction is the result of the interaction between a person’s biology and their environment. It is a complex disorder and needs to be treated like any chronic disorder rather than being viewed as a weakness of character.

How can you help yourself if you are have an addiction?

See a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Seek help to make a treatment plan for relapse prevention and to solve problems such as family and marital problems or other mental disorders (including depression and anxiety) that can trigger your drug use. Stick to your treatment plan.

Try to identify the triggers for your craving. This may include people, places and things. Where possible, avoid those triggers. Festive/holiday occasions and anniversaries may be particularly difficult times for you. If you feel under pressure on such occasions, talk to someone – a trusted family member or friend, your spouse, your support group or your therapist. Do not suppress your emotions; think about them and about activities that you can do to ventilate these emotions and take your focus off yourself.

Join a support group. Working with people who face similar challenges can really help you to control your urges to use drugs.

Keep yourself busy with activities that are healthy and interesting for you – exercise, sport, painting, singing, etc.

Remember: having a relapse does not mean your treatment has failed. Do not hide it; reach out and seek help immediately. Talk to your doctor, therapist or someone trusted right away to resume your treatment, modify it or replace it with another treatment.

How can you help a friend or family member with relapse?

Remember that simply demanding: “be strong, don’t do that” does not work.

Watch out for signs of a relapse.

Try to keep the doors of communication open. Let the person feel comfortable to talk to you without fear of being blamed.

Help them to get an appointment, resume their treatment and stick to their treatment plan.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on addiction and its treatment, including common symptoms and causes.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders. It affects 5‒8% of children, mostly boys, and often lasts into adulthood. The main features of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The exact causes are not clear, but some factors may have a role, including genetics, premature birth, brain injury and exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead at a young age or the mother smoking or using alcohol during pregnancy.

How can you help your child with ADHD?

Make a schedule for all activities, from wakeup time to bedtime, and try to follow the same routine every day. Children with ADHD find it difficult to cope with unpredictable and rapid changes.

Organize your home so that everything (clothes, toys, school items) has its place, and keep each thing in the right place.

When you ask your child to do something, give them simple, clear and consistent instructions. Stand near them, look at them and tell them slowly and calmly what you want them to do – do not shout across the room.

Break any task, like doing homework or sitting at the dining table, into smaller timespans such as 15–20 minutes.

Look for good behaviour and praise it. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism.

Be careful about your child’s diet; some food additives and colouring may make their symptoms worse.

Children with ADHD usually respond well to positive reinforcement. Rewarding or reinforcing a new good behaviour every time it occurs can encourage positive new habits.

Make sure that you give yourself a break periodically and do not neglect your other relationships, including your relationship with your partner.

How can teachers help a child who has ADHD?

Children who have ADHD often also have learning problems, so look out for such problems and give the child the support they need.

Help to build the child’s confidence and social skills.

Provide simple written information about their tasks and daily schedule, and stick it somewhere that is easily visible to the child.

Monitor the child’s work closely and give them positive feedback. Be flexible and patient.

Praise and reward the child for every little bit of progress they make.

Be very clear and specific in any instructions you give. Be clear about what you expect the child to do. Break tasks into smaller steps. Keep your instructions brief, and help the child to follow through the tasks step by step. Correct and redirect any interruptions carefully so that you do not harm their self-esteem. You can use gestures or signs that have been previously agreed between you and the child.

Try to include some physical movement in your lessons. Alternate between seated activities and those that allow some movement, or ask the child to run some errands.

Ensure specific consequences immediately following misbehaviour. You can discuss and agree on the consequences of misbehaviour with the child in advance, so that they know what to expect. Focus on the behaviour, not the child.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on ADHD and its treatment, including common symptoms and causes.

Dementia Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms), not a specific disease. Dementia describes a gradual decline in memory, thinking and social abilities that is severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.

The main feature of dementia is memory loss, but not all memory loss is dementia. Dementia is progressive, which means it gets worse over time.

Sometimes you may notice changes in behaviour or emotion (for example, agitation or depression) in an affected person even before you see memory problems. However, their consciousness stays intact.

Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people. It is overwhelming for the people affected, their families and society at large.

Although it mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing. Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia. There are 10 million new cases every year.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for about 60–70% of all cases.

How can you help yourself if you are diagnosed with dementia?

Learn as much as you can about memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Keep a journal. Write down everyday tasks and appointments to help you remember important things.

Keep your mind active by reading and doing mind exercises such as crossword and Sudoku puzzles.

Spend time with friends and family members.

Stay physically active as much as you can, eat healthily, stop smoking and drinking alcohol, and get regular check-ups with your doctor.

Plan ahead of time. A time may come when you find it difficult to make important decisions about yourself or your finances. Settle issues beforehand and, if possible, give the right to someone trusted or a solicitor to make decisions on your behalf once you are unable to do so.

Keep your ID with your address and emergency contacts on it when leaving the house.

Ask for help from people around you. Friends and family are crucial in helping you to adapt to the changes in your life and maintain your confidence and independence.

Talk to a member of your spiritual community or another person who can help you with your spiritual needs.

Join a local support group or an online community of people who are having similar experiences.

Find new ways to express yourself, such as through painting, singing or writing.

How can you help a friend or family member who has dementia?

Supporting a person who has dementia can be challenging. They can need a lot of care, and you may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility. You may find the following practical tips useful.

Use simple and clear language to communicate. When talking with your loved one, keep eye contact, speak slowly and clearly in simple short sentences, be patient about receiving an answer, and use gestures and cues such as pointing to objects.

Encourage exercise. Encourage them to be physically active as much as possible.

Encourage leisure activity. Do fun and enjoyable things together: dancing, painting, gardening, cooking, singing and spiritual activities – anything they feel good doing.

Establish a nighttime ritual. Behaviour is often worse at night. Try to establish a calming sleep ritual away from the noise of television or any exciting activity. Leave nightlights on in the bedroom, hall and bathroom to prevent disorientation. Avoid tea or coffee in the evening.

Encourage them to keep a calendar. A calendar may help your loved one remember upcoming events, daily activities and their medication schedule.

Modify the environment. Reducing clutter and noise can make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function. Help organize their home in a way that helps them accomplish everyday tasks, for example investing in a pill box that makes it easier to remember what medications to take.

Plan for the future. Develop a plan with your loved one while they are able to make decisions for the future, especially to settle financial and legal issues. If necessary, get help from a legal adviser.

Watch out for abuse and violation of their rights. People with dementia are vulnerable to abuse and violation of their rights because of their diminished ability to make decisions and take care of themselves. You need to be vigilant for any harm they may suffer from anyone around.

Take care of yourself. Beware of symptoms of burnout and frustration while looking after someone with dementia. You need to take care of yourself, keep your spirits and strength up and ask for help if you feel worn out.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on dementia, including common symptoms and causes.

Depression Depression

What is depression?

Depression is the presence of persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. It is different from the usual mood fluctuations or temporary sadness in response to challenges in everyday life.

It is a common illness; more than 300 million people are living with depression all around the world.

It can happen to anybody and begin at any time. It may happen only once or it may be recurrent.

How can you help yourself if you are depressed?

Stick to your treatment plan. Do not skip or stop your medications or psychotherapy appointments. Depression may come back or you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Pay attention to warning signs. Learn what can trigger your depression and what are your early warning symptoms. Contact your doctor/therapist as soon as you recognize these symptoms, and ask relatives or friends to also watch out for warning signs.

Talk about your depression. Sharing a problem with someone else or with a group can give you support, and hearing about other people’s experiences can provide insights into your own depression.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drug use worsen the symptoms of depression and make them harder to treat. Talk with your doctor or therapist if you need help to stop them.

Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, be physically active and get plenty of sleep. Stay connected with friends and family members and keep up with activities you used to enjoy.

Accept the current situation. Accept that you have depression and adjust your expectations. You may not be able to accomplish as much as you usually do for a while.

How can you help a friend or family member who has depression?

Talk about your concern for them. Make it clear that you want to help, listen without judgement and offer support.

Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to accompany them to appointments.

If medication is prescribed, help them to take it as prescribed.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle including getting enough sleep, taking regular exercise and eating healthily.

If you see any signs of possible self-harm or suicide, share your concern with your loved one, contact the doctor, call a suicide helpline or emergency service and seek help. This is a life-threatening emergency.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on depression and its treatment, including common symptoms and causes.

Epilepsy and seizures Epilepsy and seizures

What is What is a seizure?

Seizures are a result of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. They can vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks to severe and prolonged convulsions, and they can vary in frequency from less than one per year to several per day. A single seizure does not signify epilepsy; as many as 10% of people worldwide have one seizure during their lifetime.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a common chronic condition characterized by recurrent (at least two) unprovoked seizures which are not induced by a clear cause such as fever, stress or lack of sleep. Epilepsy has been recognized in most cultures for hundreds of years, but has often been surrounded by misunderstanding, discrimination and social stigma. This stigma continues in many countries today and can reduce the quality of life of people suffering from the disorder and their families.

People with epilepsy will have different symptoms. In most people with epilepsy, the same type of seizure occurs each time, so the symptoms will be similar in every episode of seizure and they typically pass in few seconds or minutes. A seizure can occur when someone is awake or asleep. Symptoms of epilepsy may include: uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs (a fit); loss of consciousness or awareness; tongue biting, urinary incontinence and temporary confusion following the seizure episode; a spell of staring; mental symptoms such as fear and anxiety; strange sensations – such as a “rising” feeling in the stomach, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs.

How can you help someone who is having a seizure?

Call for an ambulance if someone:

is having a seizure for the first time

has a seizure that lasts for more than five minutes

has lots of seizures in a row

has breathing problems and stays unconscious after the seizure stops

has seriously injured themselves.

There are things you can do to keep someone who is having a seizure safe

Roll the person over onto their side. This will prevent them from choking on vomit or saliva.

Cushion their head.

Loosen their collar so that they can breathe freely.

Take steps to keep their airway clear: it may be necessary to grip their jaw gently and tilt their head back slightly to open the airway more thoroughly.

Do not attempt to restrain the person unless failing to do so could result in obvious bodily harm (e.g. a convulsion that occurs at the top of a stairway or the edge of a pool).

Do not put anything into their mouth – no medicines, no solid objects, no water. Despite what you may have seen on television, it is a myth that an epileptic can swallow their tongue, but they could choke on foreign objects.

Remove any sharp or solid objects that the person may come into contact with.

Time the seizure. Once it has ended, take notes. How long did it last? What were the symptoms?

Your observations can help medical personnel later.

Stay by the person’s side throughout the seizure.

Stay calm – it will probably be over quickly.

Do not shake the person or shout. This will not help.

How can you help yourself?

Take all your medications as prescribed by your doctor – never stop them by yourself.

Anti-epileptic drugs can have side effects. If side effects do not wear off over time or you cannot tolerate them, contact your doctor. Do not make any changes to your medication by yourself.

In many people seizures have a trigger such as lack of sleep or stress. Try to identify any trigger for you and avoid it.

Be careful about taking any over-the-counter or herbal medicines. They may affect the level of the medicine in your blood and make it less effective. No herbal or complementary medicine is known to be effective in controlling seizures.

Avoid drugs and alcohol.

Stay active, exercise and continue your previous activities as far as you can, but with added safety measures. Do not tire yourself out or put too much stress on yourself.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on seizures and epilepsy and its treatment, including common symptoms and causes.

Suicide and self-harm Suicide and self-harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when somebody injures or harms themselves to cope with or express extreme emotional distress and internal turmoil. They do not generally intend to kill themselves, but the results can be fatal. Examples of self-harm include trying to poison yourself by taking too many tablets (medicines or something harmful), cutting or burning yourself, banging your head against objects, and punching or hitting yourself against something hard. Usually, people who self-harm do not intend to kill themselves.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of intentionally carrying out an action to kill oneself. Every year nearly 800 000 people commit suicide, which equates to one person every 40 seconds, and many more people attempt suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Suicide can occur at any age, from young adolescence to old age. It was the second most common cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds around the world in 2016.

How can you help someone who self-harms?

To help someone who self-harms, talk to them in an understanding way while paying attention to their problem. Show them that self-harm is common and is not just happening to them (maybe you can share this leaflet). Help them to find a doctor or help centre, and accompany them to their appointments. Help them to understand their situation as a problem, not an immoral or shameful act.

But do not try to be their therapist. They need professional help, and even if you are a professional, you cannot play this role for them as a friend or family member. Do not expect them to change their behaviour overnight or get upset and angry if they do not. Do not struggle with them when they are about to self-harm as it may increase the harm; it is better to be vigilant but walk away and tell them they can come and talk about it rather than do it. Do not force them to promise not to do it again or threaten them with any punishment if they do it again (like saying you will not see them again if they do not stop self-harming), and do not be judgmental or criticize them.

How can you help someone with suicidal thoughts?

Thoughts of suicide or a suicide attempt constitute an emergency. If you see warning signs and a significant change in behaviour, get help as soon as possible. If the person has been under treatment for a mental disorder, contact their doctor. Otherwise, call a helpline or make an urgent appointment with a doctor or counsellor as soon as possible. If the person has talked to you about suicide, do not leave them alone; ask for help from other family members or friends, and do not promise the person you will keep their situation secret, because you cannot.

If you are concerned that someone has suicidal thoughts, you can ask them directly. It is a myth that if you ask someone about suicide, you are putting the idea in their head.

If you see someone posting about death and suicide on social media, take it seriously and ask for help.

Further information

You can also refer to this factsheet for further information on suicide and self-harm, including common symptoms and causes.