When someone experiences a mental health issue their recovery becomes the primary objective. Health services focus on treatment, and the family support their loved one through this phase into recovery.
While family support can make the recovery process easier, it comes at a cost. Family members often forget about their own wellbeing.
Carers experience sleepless nights, severe worries, and many change their lifestyle so they can support their loved one. Many focus solely on the caring role above everything else. This means carers can lose ‘themselves’ and lose touch with their main role as a partner, parent, child, sibling, or grandparent.
This results in changes to the family dynamic. It can change to the point where the environment may feel very different. This is where ‘family recovery’ becomes important. Family recovery aims to restore overall wellbeing, reconnecting and rediscovering the traits and interests that make your family unique.
So if you are caring for someone and feel like you have lost your sense of ‘family’, here are five tips to help restore your family identity.
1. Develop a new form of hope
This could be hope for yourself, hope for your family or hope for your loved one. It may not mean hoping things return to the way they were, but finding new ways to connect. This may include:
- Finding a way to connect with the person who is unwell. Go for a walk, look at photos, listen to music, watch movies, cook together. Do this even if the symptoms of their illness are present.
- Don’t compare a situation to the past or worry about the future. Live in the present and think of the good occurring right now, even if they are small. A journey of recovery often involves two steps forward and one step back. Even so you are still moving forward.
- Identifying your own goals or hobbies. What do you want for your life? Make sure you are working on a personal goal as well as supporting your loved one with their recovery.
2. Educate yourself
As well as learning about your loved-one’s illness and their treatment, you should also learn about your own situation.
Learn how the services work and the different types of supports available to carers. Work on yourself, learn new coping strategies and consider sharing your caring experiences – such as grief, loss, stress and anxiety – with your peers.
3. Become an advocate
Learn the mental health language, understand the health system, learn who to contact and how to get the results you need.
Remember this is for the person you love and for yourself as a carer and family member.
Build skills to advocate for yourself. Having your voice heard ensures you feel understood, your concerns are included, and will help you to access the supports you want when you want.
4. Take control of your life
You have to fight to reclaim your life as a partner, parent, sibling, child, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend. It’s natural to worry that if you focus on yourself the person you support might miss out. But it is completely the opposite. As you recover and grow, so too does the person you care for.
5. Find support for yourself
No one can do it alone. Finding out what support you need and getting the support when you need it is vital. Sometimes you might need to open up to friends and family about how you are feeling, other times you may need to seek professional services for yourself or your loved one.
Melissa Webb is a carer and a Peer Support Worker with HelpingMinds.