What it means to care for someone with a mental illness

As a carer, you play an important role in helping someone recover from a mental illness or condition; it’s also important that you look after your own health and wellbeing.

You’re considered a ‘carer’ if you are helping someone with a mental condition or illness. Every caring relationship is unique – you might be a carer who spends time listening to a someone’s challenges. You may be there for someone when they have to go to hospital or you may be at home looking after someone full time. Regardless of what your relationship as a carer looks like, you play an important role in helping someone recover from a mental illness or condition.

Some of the roles you may play as a carer include:

Help someone take the first step in getting help

If you’re close to someone and notice that they may be struggling with mental illness, or are avoiding treatment for psychical symptoms of mental illness like trouble sleeping or being overly anxious, you can encourage them to seek help from a GP, psychiatrist or psychologist. Read more on the first steps towards getting help here.

Talk about their diagnosis

After a person has had an assessment by a clinician, they might be given a particular diagnosis, which is just an agreed-upon name for their set of symptoms and a tool to help doctors create an appropriate treatment plan. A diagnosis can also help you better understand what is happening and what to expect, though diagnoses can change over time and never define a person. If someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness, you can help them discuss the meaning of this diagnosis, how much support they may need and what is realistic for both you and them.

Work with clinicians

As a carer, you may be involved in the process of someone seeing a psychiatrist, GP or other doctors involved in treating someone’s mental health condition. If the person you care for agrees, you might attend appointments with them, discuss treatment plans and medications with their clinicians and talk to their doctors about any questions you have, how to best provide support at home and what your role should/shouldn’t involve.

Help keep track of medications

Mental illness is often treated with medication, which can help reduce someone’s symptoms. Often it is taken everyday, but each medication will come with specific information on how to take it and what the side effects may be. To help with someone’s medication, you can keep track of what they are taking, their psychical and mental health, any side effects or behavioural changes and ensure they understand any restrictions that come with the medication (i.e. avoid combining with alcohol or driving vehicles). If you notice any issues, talk to that person and their doctors about it.

Keep a list of of all relevant and important information

As someone’s carer, it’s a good idea to have all important information stored in one place, such as telephone numbers to call in an emergency, a safety plan, a list of medications someone is taking, side effects to look out for, legal paper work, what to look for if someone is unwell and steps to take in that case and any other information you think might be helpful.

Looking after your own health

Being a carer can be a challenging role in itself, and you need to make sure that you first look after your own needs, take breaks as needed and look out for any symptoms of your own, such as depression. You can also join carer support groups to talk about your experiences with others who understand.

Remember, it’s important for you to have support from family and friends as well as providing support to someone with a mental illness. There are financial and emotions supports available for carers, and taking a break and looking after yourself is paramount. To learn more about being a carer for someone with a mental illness and what resources are available to you, visit Your Health in Mind.