Care giving for someone with a mental illness can be a difficult task. Even though caring for our loved ones when they are unwell may be a priority, it can leave us feeling exhausted, worried or lonely. In some cases caregiving may be a long term commitment. It is important that in the midst of caring for others, we also look after ourselves. Otherwise our own emotional and mental health may deteriorate. This is not only problematic in itself, but would also lead to difficulties to look after the sufferer for whom we are caring. Our own emotional stability and functionality are sources of strength which enable us to be there for someone else.
Effects of Caregiving
The tasks attached to being a caregiver can be overwhelming and can often result in chronic stress. These are some problems that can be faced:
- We may find it difficult to find time to go out or carry on with our hobbies or interests and may even feel guilty doing them.
- We may look at other people and feel like our life is very different, and that they don’t understand how we are feeling.
- If we feel worried that we or the person we care for might face stigma, we may find it hard to let people know that we are a carer. This can make us feel very lonely and over time the social isolation can become extremely troubling.
- The onset of a loved one’s mental illness is also often accompanied by changes in the family, household and relationship dynamics, adding stress for the caregiver.
Chronic stress can lead to a host of both imbalances, disease, or disorders, both physical and emotional. It is imperative that carers make balanced lifestyle choices that enable them to care for themselves while caring for others.
How to look after yourself
In the midst of caring for someone else, caregivers often neglect their own health. This is counter-productive for everyone involved. If you are a caregiver, there are a number of things you can do to keep caregiver stressors in check.
- Let’s practice acceptance:
When caring for someone else, we often end up being confronted with a variety of feelings (guilt, blame, fear, confusion and general uncertainty) and it becomes very difficult for us to process these feelings. If you are in such a position, you may feel guilty for not identifying the mental illness earlier or you may be confused about what to do next. It is important to recognize that your reactions and feelings are a common response to stress.
When confronted with life’s difficulties such as a loved one’s mental illness, we often ask ourselves questions such as ‘Why them?’ and ‘Why us?’ Often we won’t find any answers to the things we cannot change. So instead of pondering over this, try to push yourself to be strong enough to accept that your loved one’s mental illness is beyond your control. In order to do this, one crucial thing is to liberate yourself from stigma.
- Share your feelings with someone:
It is important to recognize that caregivers need support themselves. Rather than isolating yourself, try to share your own feelings with others. Think about the people in your life you can turn to for support. You may have a family member who helps you relax, or a friend who is good at taking your mind off things. There may be times when support from family or friends may not be available or enough, in those times it is important to seek professional help.
Since other caregivers may be in a good position to understand what you are going through, it could also be worthwhile to connect with them. You may have the opportunity to meet some in Taskeen’s community forum.
- Familiarise yourself with the mental illness and its symptoms:
It is easier to identify and recognise symptoms and appropriate responses and measures if we are informed about the specific illness that a loved one is facing. Read and learn from trusted sources about the illness. Getting an overview of the available treatment options for the specific mental illness may help you identify the best possible help for the person you are caring for.
Even though each person experiences their illness uniquely, reaching out to other caregivers and survivors can also help you learn more about options and alternatives for both care and treatment.
- Reach out and accept help:
Since caring for someone suffering from mental illness requires time and energy, it may be stressful to be tackled by one person alone. Try to seek active support and accept the help of others. Whereas there may be one person who coordinates the support and care, sharing responsibilities with others may make it easier for the carers to take time out for themselves when the caregiving tasks are shared with others.
Along with this comes a recognition of the things you can and can’t do. While you can provide practical support by taking the person out and supporting them in the household, do not try to replace professional help if it becomes necessary.
- Take time out for yourself:
When caring for someone, taking time out for yourself may seem counterintuitive, but it is extremely important. You need to recharge your batteries regularly in order to continuously share your energy with others. Here it can be helpful to remind yourself of what you enjoyed doing before you became a caregiver, such as meeting friends, playing some sports or engaging in other hobbies. Lets not forget these aspects of yourself as they can help relieve stress.
Have a look at our other resources covering how to manage stress.