Looking after your wellbeing as a carer

According to mental health charity Mind , one in four adults will experience a mental health condition at some time in their lives. This means you or someone close to you will be affected. Many of the carers we support care for someone with a mental health condition. It is also important that you as carers support your wellbeing too, so you can be there for the person you care for.

Mark Brown is a journalist and former editor of the One in Four magazine, a magazine written by and for people with mental health conditions. He regularly writes and tweets about mental health and his experience of trauma.  Recognising how you are feeling, and then understanding that you may need support to deal with these feelings is a skill, that as we experience more we are able to develop. Mark recognises that looking at the world around you and your own hopes, desires and aspirations for the future can get lost when we experience mental health difficulties. “Hope and the future are sort of mixed together in our heads,” he says. “When we experience despair we both lose sight of the path to our own future but also lose sight of the future we want for the world, too. It can feel like what’s going on in our heads and what’s going on outside are all mixed up as if they were the same thing.”

We often hear on social media, that ‘it’s good to talk’, with people attempting to raise awareness of mental illness and rightly so. The anti stigma movement online and more physically has blown up in recent years with many celebrities and public figures backing the campaigns.  But how do we talk? How do we share our deepest darkest thoughts without burdening our friends and family? How can carers look after their wellbeing?

Karen Polluck is a councillor from Northumberland Counselling specialising in LGBT issues. She recognises the importance of understanding mental health amongst friendship groups and other support networks, that not showing up to a pre-arranged event because of anxiety is understood and the need to talk about our wellbeing is recognised. “Sometimes the thing a friend needs is to know it’s OK to not be ok,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure on people to present a life which looks picture perfect. Let your friends know you don’t expect that. Let them know it’s OK not to make events, and keep inviting them, and most of all be willing to listen. Being explicit can make a huge difference, tell friends they don’t need to put up a false front around you. There are great campaigns that tell people to talk, but they are meaningless if no one is listening. Remember your own self care too, one of my favourite sayings is you cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

According to the Mental Health Foundation, supporting a friend or relative who has a mental health condition is often vital for their recovery and in overcoming the isolation that they may feel. The organisation also identifies five ‘mental health first aid’ strategies to follow; assess risk of suicide and self harm, listen non-judgementally, give reassurance and information, encourage the person to get appropriate professional help and encourage self-help strategies. It is important that carers are able to reach out for support too, that many of the groups at North Tyneside Carers’ Centre aims to provide, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed or alone. Developing self care strategies takes time, and sometimes we need to ask for help to embed these strategies, to recognise when we need a break, or to talk to someone about our difficulties.

“We also need to not mock or downplay people’s concerns, something that can happen a lot particularly in the way people are treated within the mainstream media,” Karen concludes. “It seems trendy to laugh at very serious issues such as gender equality, poor labour rights, housing or environmental concerns, especially because of the age of the person expressing them.”

Marks adds the need to recognise how you feel, find an outlet that can help you and not to feel worried for feeling how you do. Supporting your own mental health will make you better prepared and equipped when supporting others who encounter difficulties.

“It’s not letting the side down or hiding away,” he says. “We can’t run on panic forever, always waiting for the crisis to hit. If we do that, when the crisis does come we’ll have no reserves of strength to draw upon.”