In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Many of us will find ourselves supporting someone close to us with a mental health condition at some point. As a support person, you may feel the need to be emotionally strong all of the time. The problem with this is when it comes at the expense of your own wellbeing.
Supporting someone through a mental health condition can be exhausting, demanding and rewarding all rolled into one. If you’re supporting a partner or close friend, you might also feel like you’ve lost someone close to you to talk about what’s going on in day-to-day life. Support people often report feeling isolated and alone.
It’s easy for the person you are supporting to become your whole world but remember that looking after yourself is an important part of being the best support person you can be. Here are some tips on how you can strike the balance:
Learn about the mental health condition your loved one is experiencing. Uncertainty on your part can lead to a lot of stress. For example, if you’re supporting someone with depression, it’s good to know phrases to avoid when talking to them about their condition. Similarly, there are common misconceptions when it comes to anxiety. The best thing you can do is to learn the facts so that you can understand what they are going through and how this affects their day-to-day behaviour.
Accept how you feel. Supporting someone with a mental health condition can bring up lots of emotions. These may include fear, confusion and guilt. You might find yourself constantly wondering, ‘How am I supposed to feel?’ There is no single or short answer to this – how you feel is how you feel. Accept that aspects of the situation are beyond your control and allow yourself to feel your feelings, knowing that you still love the person you are supporting either way.
Take time for yourself. You need to rest and recharge to keep yourself well. It’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Find the time to treat yourself away from the person you are supporting. It doesn’t have to be a big treat – catch up with friends, read a book you love or go for a walk. You shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying these moments of me-time.
Create boundaries. There is only so much you can do as a support person. Often there is no ‘quick fix’ you can supply to make your loved one feel better immediately. This can be frustrating, especially if they’re resistant to getting support. As far as possible, keep an open dialogue that acknowledges your feelings too, encouraging the person you are supporting to seek other support services.
Reach out. You don’t have to do this alone. If you don’t want to speak to a family member or friend, or your mental health symptoms intensify, your GP is the best starting point for getting support. The Beyond Blue online forums and other online support services like Carers Australia, the Young Carers Network and SANE offer fantastic information and resources.
If you’re really worried about someone, there are some important resources you can use to talk it through. Lifeline provides crisis support and suicide prevention services – they can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 13 11 14. There is also the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and the Beyond Blue Support Service which can be contacted on 1300 22 4636. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call emergency services on 000 (triple zero) and stay with them until help arrives.