Author – Abigail East – Abi has over two decades of experience in HR, change management and communications and personal experience of caring for a loved one with a mental illness.
1.UNDERSTAND It can be reassuring to read and research the topic of mental ill-health to help you understand how a loved one was feeling. It helps you realise that all of what you are witnessing is totally normal for someone with this illness, and be able to understand the things that make a difference and what to expect as they started to make progress.
2. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY Often it’s the ones closest to the sufferer who find themselves having to deal with distance, criticism, irrational behaviours and it can be incredibly tough – both physically and emotionally – to deal with when you are doing all you can to support them. Researching the illness helps you understand that this is really typical, it isn’t about you, it was the illness talking. That makes it easier to deal with and keep going through the darkest of times.
3. GET INVOLVED If appropriate, attend medical appointments so you understand first hand what’s been said to avoid confusion and can help by reminding the patient what’s been said, helping them to anticipate and understand side effects of medication, good days and bad etc.
4. RECOGNISE AND REDUCE TRIGGERS Certain times of day or having to deal with certain situations (children, mealtimes, managing medication, calls with medics) can cause heightened stress or anxiety and make things trickier. Try to spot the patterns so you can anticipate the patient’s response. Try to avoid or reduce the stress where you can by changing the situation and helping them navigate it.
5. DISTRACT If your loved one is prone to ruminate and go over the same issues repeatedly, instead of wasting your energy trying to reason with them or present an alternative point of view, say something like “I am sorry you feel that way, it must be upsetting for you, but I don’t see it that way”. Then distract them by suggesting they do something different.
6. TALK As the sounding board for the sufferer it’s important that you have your own outlet too. Talk to friends and family and consider seeing a qualified therapist who can help you deal with your stress levels and feelings. Carer groups can provide support as well. People need to know what’s going on so that they can help you and your loved one.
7. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF Being a carer for a loved one is exhausting and often incessant, especially if you have dependents, work and other responsibilities to juggle. It’s really important that you look after yourself. Make sure you build in time to relax, (take a bath, read a magazine, do some mindfulness, grab an early night); to exercise and to eat well.
8. BE SELFISH Your time will not be your own, and your energy will be reduced so use both of these wisely. Only do the things you want to do (on top of your carer role). Consider who and what makes you feel good – and someone or something doesn’t, don’t do it. You have to stay well and sometimes that will mean being a little selfish.
9. ACCEPT HELP Sometimes your role as a carer may have to take priority over other things in your life. Accept help from friends and family – simple acts of kindness (a pie dropped off by a friend, someone doing the school run for you, someone taking them out for a dog walk so you get some time off) can make a huge difference to your feelings of being able to cope. Accept that people want to help and accept that help from them.
10. KEEP PERSPECTIVE When you’re in the thick of it it’s hard to believe that things will ever get better and that’s a heavy burden to carry. Mental illness takes time and patience to deal with. This won’t go on forever. Focus on all that you have rather than the things you don’t.
And last but not least, share. Storytelling is so powerful. Talking about your experience may benefit others and encourage others to seek help or share their own story. All of this will help to reduce the stigma around mental health.
Abigail East www.effectus.org.uk