Many of us have someone in our life that is suffering or has suffered with some form of mental illness. It might be a parent, sibling, cousin or friend. Receiving a phone call from a loved one who is distraught and reaching out for support can sometimes be overwhelming for both people on the phone. This article is a reflection on the role of a caregiver.
On October 10th, World Mental Health Day is recognized around the world with the objective of raising awareness of mental health issues and providing all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work.
In reflecting on those who are suffering with a mental illness, we would like to highlight the isolation that can be experienced by the caregiver who might feel intimidated or afraid in situations of crisis.
In a conversation with Michele Roussy who is a Central Intake Specialist at the Canadian Mental Health Association, we have learned that many caregivers have experienced isolation. Michele explained that an important part of supporting a person’s wellness is to make a plan including what to do with/for someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis. “It is important not to put undue pressure on someone who is suffering by saying how awful it makes you feel hear/watch them suffer as it may make them feel like a burden; more than they already do feel like a burden. Ask questions like: What can I do when you are unwell? What can I say when you are unwell that will help you? Is there anyone I could call for you?”
There are an incredible range of resources available for caregivers who are supporting loved ones battling a a mental illness. We would like to highlight some approaches links and organizations for caregivers here because even the strongest person needs support.
1.Take care of yourself first
As explained by Michele Roussy at the Canadian Mental Health Association “You must take care of your own mental/physical/spiritual/emotional health so that YOU CAN be a person who can be relied upon for support. It is similar to putting the oxygen mask on yourself in an airplane before assisting your children or others to put on their own. Remember that if you’re not as healthy as you can be, it will be difficult to support someone who is struggling with their mental health.”
You cannot help someone if you don’t help yourself first. Feelings of anger, frustration, and even resentment can start to form and that’s normal. But, you have to fight the urge to let yourself stay in that place by doing things that you love and make you feel good. By remembering that you are a person outside of your relationship with your loved one. Foster your own growth, step outside of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to live the life you want.
2. Reach out for help
Whether it be a friend, family member, or professional. Do not be scared to ask for support. In fact, let the phrase “I need help” become your best friend and closest ally. We tend to think of help in such formal terms… this does not always need to be the case. Joining a yoga class or painting group can be just as therapeutic as going to counselling. Get creative and do what makes you feel comfortable. There is no ‘one size fits all’. What worked for a friend may not work for you. Try different things. Help and support, especially in situations like this, are not rigid, so explore your options. (I have left a list of some below, if you need a place to start).
One of the recommendations shared by Michelle at the Canadian Mental Health Association is to join a Family and Caregiver Education Group as a way to increase knowledge of mental illness, get support and obtain the tools needed to make informed decision.
3. Set boundaries
Yes, a mental illness is not just a phase. It is not something that just goes away with time, it is an ongoing battle; but, for the sake of you both, you cannot let it consume every part of your life. It cannot always be the topic of conversation or the elephant in the room. There needs to be other aspects of your relationship with this person. Work hard to develop and focus on those things.
4. Enjoy moments together
In challenging situations such as this, it becomes very easy to focus on the negative. Please don’t. Remember that there is another narrative, you just have to work a little bit harder to tell it. Make positive moments outlast the negative ones. Bake together, go for a hike, play cards, put together an album of your best-loved memories. Do anything you can together that reminds you that there is another story worth sharing.
5. Understand you are not responsible
For anything that is happening now or anything that happens in the future— you are not responsible. All you can do is be there, be supportive, and be attentive. You cannot force or demand anything and most importantly you can not singlehandedly change anything. You are one person, doing the best you can and for that, you are amazing. Period.
Links for the incredible supporters
Canadian Mental Health Association:
The following list of websites are specific to York Region and South Simcoe Family, Friends and Caregiver Support services:
Opportunities including programs for Youth who are either experiencing mental health concerns or living with or caring for someone who is experiencing mental health concerns.
Student guide to manage feelings of stress and anxiety:
Other options could include:
Kids Help Phone (not just for kids)
For loved ones conquering mental illness