The experience of mental illness not only affects the individual but also those who care about them.
Families and friends often play a vital role in supporting a person with mental illness. Many in this role do not consider themselves a ‘carer’, rather they have found themselves in the role because it's part of their relationship with the person who is affected. They may be a parent of someone with a mental illness, an adult caring for a partner, parent or friend, or a child who looks after a family member with a mental illness. Carers may not necessarily live with the person they care for.
Whatever the personal relationship, it is important to acknowledge that caring for someone living with a mental illness can be a demanding and often isolating experience. Therefore, it's essential to look after yourself as well as the person you are caring for. Self-care includes looking after your own physical, mental and emotional health. Doing this can sometimes be down to a matter of changing habits and attitudes. It need not take up a lot of time, or cost a lot of money.
Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can help ensure you have the energy, time and resilience to help someone else. Remember you have a right to your own life, and to nurture your own mental and physical health. Here are some tips to help you develop a self-care program.
- Take a break when you need it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or if supporting someone is taking up a lot of time or energy, taking some time for yourself can help you feel refreshed.
- Get an adequate and consistent amount of sleep each night. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and aim for around 8 hours a night.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and eat at regular times each day.
- Remain physically active in ways that you enjoy. This could include walking, stretching, jogging or playing a team sport.
- Stay in touch with friends and family who encourage and support you.
- Be realistic about what you can do and don't take too much on. Your support is valuable, but it’s up to your loved one to seek support for themselves.
- Establish a regular night out with your spouse, a friend, or family member.
- Take up a new hobby or reconnect with an activity you used to enjoy. Cooking, reading, gardening, photography, listening to music are simple ways to start.
- Set boundaries and recognise your own limitations. It's okay to say 'No' to others when you need to.
- Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings to a friend can help you feel supported too.
- Seek therapy for yourself if you need to talk. Start with your GP who can refer you to a counsellor, psychologist, social worker, or peer support group.
- Learn to identify your stress indicators, such as 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.
- As a wonderful SANE Peer Ambassador 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 slowly. We live in a rush, rush, rush culture. Generally this just serves to make us feel anxious rather than productive. Take your time to consider how best to spend your time today. What will make you feel calmer and happier?
Everybody's definition of self-care is different and unique. Feel free to add to or edit this list as you please with any ideas that come to mind that are relevant for you.