The importance of looking after yourself while you are looking after others.
Family, friends and carer wellbeing can be significantly impacted when the person they care about is experiencing mental health issues. They can experience high rates of grief, trauma, stress, depression, anxiety and poor physical health. People can also face stigma, discrimination and social isolation resulting in the breakdown of relationships and disconnection from their own family, friends and community. Often family members, friends and carers put all their energy and time towards supporting the person they care about, and don’t consider, or place any priority on, their own relationships or wellbeing.
As a family member, friend or carer, focusing on your own social and emotional wellbeing can have positive impacts for the recovery of the person you care about and your relationship with them. When you are able to improve your wellbeing, you can often gain a deeper understanding of your loved one’s experiences and their recovery journey. You and your family or friends can then work towards creating meaningful and fulfilling lives, regardless of whether mental health issues are present.
Many people say that they do not feel comfortable with their relationship being defined as one of a ‘carer’ and wish to return to, or establish, a more mutually supportive relationship as a family member or friend. When family members, friends and carers are able to strengthen their own social and emotional wellbeing, and identity, it can impact positively on all of their relationships.
Tips for friends and carers
To take care of your own wellbeing as a family member, friend or carer of someone with mental health issues:
Consider what you need and want in life
You may need some support to reflect on this if you have not done it for some time. You could talk to professionals or trusted friends and family.
Take steps towards your goals
Some people may wish to reconnect with old friends or return to their previous work. Others may wish to explore new opportunities, such as social groups, jobs, interests or hobbies.
Access professional support
Make contact with your local carer consultant or mental health service. You may find it helpful to engage in counselling to explore the emotional impact that caring for someone with mental health issues has had on you. You may also benefit from receiving some financial or practical support.
Explore your own physical and mental health
Check in with your local GP to manage your own health needs.
Connect with peers
You can learn a lot from others who have had experience caring for someone with mental health issues. You may be surprised to know others have had similar issues to you. You may also make new friendships or connections, which are inclusive and supportive, or be inspired to help others who are starting on this same journey.
Don’t feel guilty
Everyone needs some time to pursue their own interests and do things that nurture their own sense of self. This can actually be helpful to your relationships with others and support the recovery of the person you care for. Read more about how families, friends and carers can help here.