Smiley Australia

Carers and Family:

Caring Means Caring for Yourself Too:

As a carer or family member how do you cope living with and supporting someone with a mental illness?

There is no easy answer to this, however there are some strategies you can put into place to ease the stress and increase your ability to cope.

Time Out for You:

No matter how demanding your situation is you must make time for yourself to step away from your responsibilities and daily routine.

Make a regular day for 'you' time and stick to it. Time to yourself freshens your perspective and recharges the batteries.

Maintain Independence:

Don't allow unreasonable expectations to control your life. Don't be at the beck and call of your 'caree'. Have definite boundaries about how much you will do and what you expect the person to do for themselves.

Encourage your 'caree' to do whatever you know they can reasonably do for themselves. Make sure that you do support them in their activities and endeavours. Understand that support does not mean doing everything for them.

Be Kind To Yourself:

Sometimes we can increase the pressure on ourselves through our own unreasonable expectations of what we should be able to cope with and do and how well we should be able to do it. We tend to take on more than we can comfortably handle.

If your day is overloaded, make a list to help you assess what is really necessary and what is not. Sometimes there are things on our 'to do' lists that just aren't essential or that can wait for another time.

Life is about living - it's not about having a perfect house, garden, wardrobe. It's not about keeping up appearances or what others may 'think' of you. It's about living the best you can in your circumstances and being proud of what you achieve - even the simple things.

The motto here is Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

Life is about family and also having the type of friends who are supportive of you and understanding of your circumstances. Sometimes people are not understanding or may shy away from those caring for someone with an illness. This says more about them than you - don't feel sad if some 'friends' become 'unavailable' - they are simply the sort of friends that never were and you are better off without them and the negative feelings they create.

Caring for Your Mental Health:

When we are busy caring for another we sometimes forget ourselves and neglect our own needs.

Counselling and psychotherapy is not only good for the patient, it is also good for those caring for them. Consider taking time out to seek psychological support to learn and develop coping skills to help you better manage your own unique situation.

Develop a good relationship with your GP who can advise and support you in your role as Carer.

Caring for someone who is ill is very physically and mentally demanding - it's a marathon not a sprint. Don't neglect your own needs. Keep yourself physically and mentally on top of your situation at all times and seek assistance, advice and support whenever you need to.

Dealing with an Uncooperative Patient:

Phases of the illness can cause patients to be extremely uncooperative at times. They can refuse medication, food, refuse to perform basic personal hygiene, refuse to modify their behaviours, refuse to listen to what you are telling them etc.

If the patient is living in your home don't be afraid to enforce some basic ground rules. Don't relax these to fit in with unacceptable voluntary behaviours. It is the patient who must modify these behaviours not you.

Remember, you are not doing the person any favours by tolerating socially unacceptable behaviour.

If the patient has their own residence tell them they will be welcome in your home if and when they can conduct themselves in an acceptable manner.

Patients who are Self Absorbed:

Suffering with a mental illness can make patients prone to self interest.

Many of you will have experienced the difficulty of caring for someone who displays absolutely zero regard for the needs of anyone else around them. Increasing and unreasonable demands and expectations by the patient can be very hard on everyone.

Self absorption is a symptom of the illness. Unaware carers can come to question their own sanity, motives and judgement as the patient seems oblivious to the needs of anyone else and places increasing pressure and demands on the carer.

Attempting to juggle competing interests of either yourself or other family members can create tension and lack of sleep. All of this combines to affect your ability to reason and cope effectively.

If you have come to this point then it is time to seek additonal professional assistance and retake control of your life. It is your life after all not the person you are caring for.

Deft manipulation by those who are ill can cause a person to devote way too much of themselves in the care of another. Remember your boundaries and you will soon be able to ascertain when you've crossed them to your own and others detriment.

Violence and Aggression:

Don't allow your 'caree' to intimidate you or other family members or control you with verbal or physical threats or actions.

Violence, aggression and verbal intimidation are totally unacceptable behaviours - mental illness or not.

If you are alone in caring for someone make sure you maintain contact with family and trusted friends, don't allow yourself to become socially isolated.

If the person you are caring for is verbally aggressive or physically violent you must report this to the patient's GP or mental health workers. You should also make your own personal support people aware of your situation.

  • Never feel that violence or aggression is something you have to put up with.
  • Never make excuses or ignore this type of behaviour.
  • Always immediately report and seek treatment for the patient exhibiting this behaviour.

If you ignore or fail to report these episodes you are placing the patient, yourself and others in a very serious position if matters escalate.

Violence and aggression needs to be specifically addressed through treatment. Never underestimate the possibility that this behaviour may escalate.

You may believe that the person would never 'knowingly' hurt you or anyone else, and this may well be true.

It may also be true that in some instances the patient may not always 'know' what they are doing or may have a lack of insight into their actions in that moment.

There are any number of factors that can influence a persons behaviour that you simply may not be aware of at the time including but not limited to:

  • The patient may not be taking their medication without your knowledge.
  • The patient may have taken too much medication without your knowledge.
  • The patient may be under some other influence such as illicit drugs.
  • The patient may be having a severe episode due to lack of recognition or effective treatment for the severity of their illness.

It is very important that you get help immediately to address violent or aggressive changes in behaviour.

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