We get many calls to the SANE Helpline from people who are looking after a loved one with a mental illness.
It is estimated that carers of someone with a mental illness spend an average of 104 hours per week in the caring role. This can make being a carer a very demanding responsibility, and getting some outside support can make a big difference.
It is important for you to take care of yourself, as it is quite common for carers to put their own needs aside.
Support services for carers
As a carer it's important to remember you are not alone and there are external services available that can provide support. You can think of this as building a team that will support you through the challenging times.
There are many different people and services, online and face-to-face, that you can tap into and the list below is a good starting point.
Carers Australia runs Mental Health Foundations for Carers. An interactive online program that sets out some of the issues you may face and the support you may consider.
You will find lots of carers sharing their experiences on the SANE Forums. Reading other people’s experiences can help you feel connected and the online discussions contain lots of practical suggestions. The forums allow you to hear strategies that have worked for others, or even learn from their experiences that have not been so helpful.
Counselling services and support groups can be a great way of getting support.
Professional support in counselling allows you to discuss issues related to your loved one’s health and the impact this has on you.
While support groups give you the opportunity to share experiences with others who are experiencing similar circumstances.
For more information you can contact:
- ARAFEMI — 1300 550 265. Available hours: 9-5 Wednesday, Thursday & Friday
- Carers Australia — 1800 242 636. Available hours: 9-5 Monday-Friday
Respite for when you need a break
Carers sometimes need a break. By accessing respite services, it allows you to take a break from your caring role and either attend to other tasks or have a much deserved rest.
You can contact ARAFMI, Carers Australia or the SANE Help Centre for details on respite in your state.
Supporting the kids
The COPMI (Children Of Parents with a Mental Illness) website is a great resource and includes information for parents too.
If children want to speak with someone about what is happening, they can speak with a counsellor at their school or they can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Kids Helpline also offer an online chat option should this be more comfortable for them.
Telephone counselling options for carers
Of course, sometimes the responsibilities of being a carer can build-up and you feel like it's all too much. In these times it's important to know that there is always someone who cares and is willing to listen. In times of a crisis the best service to contact is Lifeline, a 24 hour crisis service available by calling 13 11 14.
Tips for self-care
As a carer of someone living with a mental illness, it is important to remember to take care of yourself as well.
Self-care includes any actions you can take towards caring for your own physical, mental and emotional health. These actions can often be quite simple, and need not take up a lot of time, or cost a lot of money.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started on a self-care plan that works for you.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and eat at regular times each day.
- Remain physically active in a way that you enjoy (walking, stretching, jogging or playing a team sport).
- Get an adequate amount of sleep each night (go to bed and wake up at the same each day).
- Stay in touch with friends and family who encourage and support you.
- Establish a regular date night with your spouse (weekly, monthly).
- Take up a new hobby or reconnect with an activity you used to enjoy (cooking, reading, gardening, photography, listening to music).
- Learn to identify your stress indicators; short temper, mood swings, withdrawal from friends or family, feeling overwhelmed and drained. Use these indicators as a reminder to take some 'me' time to unwind.
- Set boundaries and recognise your own limitations. It's okay to say 'no' to others when you need to seek therapy for yourself.
- Seek therapy for yourself if you need to talk (through a counsellor, psychologist, or carers' support group).
- As a wonderful SANE Speaker said ‘Get educated, because knowledge is power.’ Not only will this help the person who is unwell, but it will help your own wellbeing and confidence.
- Know that it’s ok to be gentle with yourself and to take things more slowly. We live in a ‘rush, rush, rush’ culture. Generally this just serves to make us anxious rather than more productive. Take your time to consider how best to spend your time today. What will make you feel calmer and happier?
- Understand that the real connections in our lives run deep, deeper than external opinions and attitudes, and deeper than anyone outside our bond can ever comprehend.
Hopefully you find these tips and resources to be a good starting point for building your own team.