Why you need to care for yourself when caring for someone else

As we slowly start to chip away at the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression, there’s no shortage of information about the best way to understand and manage these conditions. But what if you’re on the other side of a mental health issue and are spending your time caring for a loved one in the throes of a bad day, month or year?

This October 10 is World Mental Health Day – a global initiative aimed at increasing awareness, education and support of those struggling with their mental health.

Lead Clinical Adviser of Beyond Blue, Grant Blashki, has some advice for those looking to ensure their own mental health remains intact while caring for somebody close, offering support to the supporters.

Evaluate the vibe

“Relationships are already complicated, but if you overlay that with someone in the relationship not thinking clearly or being overly-emotional, that can be one of the hardest things to deal with.

"When you’re having an argument or a conversation with the person suffering, it’s important to consider whether it’s them speaking or their mental health condition. Ask yourself, ‘is this a legitimate concern or is it an unfair evaluation because the person’s not thinking very clearly’?

"It’s also important to recognise the signs around what’s going on. There are some red flags that may make you think these arguments or issues aren’t just the normal banter of a relationship. This includes your partner or family member withdrawing, not managing their usual roles at work or at home, sleep disturbances and excessive use of drugs and alcohol to dampen feelings.”

Give yourself a break

“Carers or those in a relationship with someone having a mental health issue often feel responsible for the issue at hand. These individuals can often feel like everything is their fault but it’s an unfair way to view the situation. Try not to be so hard on yourself.

"When an individual is experiencing a mental health issue, it’s usually a range of complex genetic and/or life environment issues, so you can’t usually say ‘it’s all on that person’. What’s more, it can be quite exhausting helping a family member or partner with a mental health issue, so it’s really important you pace yourself. If you can, try to exercise and invest in your relationships with other people so you don’t feel alone.

"Sometimes the person with the problem is embarrassed and they don’t want their supporter to talk about it with anyone because they’re worried about their privacy. This means the person who’s helping ends up feeling quite isolated because they can’t talk about things with anyone and leaves them carrying a weight. If this is the case, it’s helpful to speak to a psychologist or counsellor.”

Reach out

“There are a number of organisations and support groups throughout the country for carers, including Carers Australia – a not-for-profit organisation which helps people conducting long-term care. There’s also Mental Health Carers Australia as well as the Beyond Blue website.”


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Choose your moments

“If you’ve noticed behavioural changes in your partner, friend or family member, and are wondering about the best time to speak to them, try to pick an appropriate moment in the right setting. Make sure it’s somewhere private, not in front of other people and not when someone’s just walked in and they’re obviously stressed from work or looking after the kids. Try to find a calm moment.

"A good way to start the conversation is by saying something like ‘I’ve noticed that...’. You need to focus on the behaviour rather than labelling them by saying ‘you’ve got depression’ or ‘you’ve got anxiety…’. Don’t put a label on something they can get defensive about.”

Remember it’s ok

“If you have this fantasy that everyone else is a happy little vegemite and only you and your partner or a family member are having a difficult time – this is just not the case. Mental health issues are really common: in any one year around one million Australians will experience depression and two million will experience anxiety.

"If someone’s expressing more serious thoughts that make you think they may be a suicide risk, it’s also OK to ask them about that – you don’t need to worry about putting the idea in their head. If you believe someone to be in an urgent situation you can always ring Lifeline, and Beyond Blue has a 24-hour phone line.

"We also have an amazing online forum, which gets accessed by 120,000 people each month. There are a lot of great sub-themes on there exploring very niche topics. It’s a wonderful support."

If you or someone you know is in need of support, visit Beyond Blue or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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