As anyone who has struggled with a mental illness will tell you, dealing with the challenges that having poor mental health presents itself with is not an easy feat.
Not only is mental ill health extremely challenging for the individual suffering themselves, but it is also a great challenge for the family and friends of the individual suffering, too. This is because the nature of most, if not all mental illnesses, means that a considerable amount of support is required to ensure the wellbeing of those struggling, something which usually falls to the family and/or friends of the sufferer. There are, however, difficulties that arise in doing this (dealing with the individual and their needs, and helping them to access services), as I will explore below…
Difficulties dealing with the individual:
The main difficulty that can arise in dealing with a mentally ill individual is the potential for them to have an adverse reaction to the offering of support. Such a reaction can occur for several reasons, with, perhaps the most common one being because they don’t recognise that they even have a mental illness, and therefore nor do they recognise their need for the support that’s being offered to them. This is an example of denial, something that is very common in the early stages of mental ill health. It can cause ‘rifts’ to form between the individual and their family members/friends who might perceive their loved one’s behaviour to be ‘selfish.’ They might also feel as though they no longer recognise their loved one and who their mental illness has ‘turned them into.’ Verbalising such opinions, however, would most likely result in the escalation of ‘rifts’, something which would, undoubtedly, have a negative impact on the mental health of both parties (this being very much the opposite intention), and, in extreme cases, could even lead to the breakdown of relationships (again, this being very much the opposite intention.)
Difficulties dealing with the individual’s needs:
If someone is in denial about their mental ill health, as referenced above, it can be extremely difficult for the individual’s family members/friends to help them deal with their needs (mainly because, they don’t think they even have any needs, let alone know what they are.) And, even if the individual does acknowledge their needs, their loved ones will still likely face many difficulties, namely in knowing how to deal with their needs in the best way possible.
Knowing how best to deal with a mentally ill loved one’s needs is made even harder due to the ‘long-spanning’ nature of most mental illnesses translating to those with mental ill health, often, requiring ‘around the clock care.’ This- the provision of such extensive care– is something which is extremely difficult, particularly for family members/friends who have other commitments that demand their attention, such as work, for example (as most people do have.)
Being unable to offer a mentally ill loved one their undivided attention then, (something which is both unpractical and unrealistic), might cause the family member/friend of the mentally ill individual to feel guilty, with such feelings of guilt potentially leading them to sacrifice their own mental health and wellbeing (e.g., by reducing social contact and quitting their job to spend as much time as possible with their loved one.)
The risk of devoting every waking hour to caring for a mentally ill loved one, (such as by quitting their job), is that the ‘carer’ might experience burn out (a.k.a. emotional and physical exhaustion), a consequence of their relentlessly high-pressured lifestyle negatively impacting upon both their mental and physical health. In the event of this happening, not only would the individual suffer, but so too would their mentally ill loved one, as their carer would be unable to provide them with the level of care they need, if any care at all.
Furthermore, in the context of a family dynamic, if everything becomes solely about the individual with mental ill health, with every bit of the family’s time and energy being given to one individual, the rest of the family might be lacking in the care they need. This could create feelings of jealousy, particularly in younger children who lack understanding of the situation, and could therefore result in a further breakdown of relationships, and the occurrence of even greater disconnect between family members.
Difficulties accessing services:
In the same way that being in denial about their mental ill health would affect the capability for family members/friends to deal with the individual and their needs adequately (or, at all), so too would it have an impact on their ability to help the individual access services that would meet their needs.
The difficulty in accessing services in a situation whereby the individual requiring the service doesn’t want to admit they have a problem, is that the services being sought might be at a loss as to what help they can offer to someone who is unresponsive to it.
Furthermore, someone who won’t admit they have a problem is unlikely to go looking for help to solve that problem (because, in their mind, it doesn’t exist), and therefore it is highly unlikely that they will give consent for third parties to seek help on their behalf. This poses confidentiality/safeguarding issues that, given the individual has capacity, would prevent so much as a discussion about them taking place without their knowledge/consent (something which, if they are in denial about even having a problem, they are unlikely to give.)
Being unable to find professional help and support for their loved one can cause the people seeking help to feel a sense of guilt and helplessness, something which can result in they themselves becoming mentally ill as a result. They might feel personal responsible for, what they believe to be their ‘failings’ (being unable to provide their loved one with adequate help and support.)
Even if consent is given for help to be sought, such feelings of helplessness can still linger, as the long waiting lists for most NHS funded services can be described as nothing short of disheartening.
To prevent having to wait so long to access support and thus reduce the likelihood of their loved one deteriorating during this time, family members/friends of the sufferer might feel pressured to pay for access to private services. This, however, can lead to considerable economic strain being felt by families, a direct result of them resorting to what they believe to be the ‘only remaining option.’
To conclude then, it is obvious that caring for a mentally ill loved one, in many circumstances, can be just as difficult as actually living with the mental illness itself. It is therefore paramount that the carers of the mentally ill, (whether formal or informal), ensure that they are taking regular ‘time-out’ breaks to allow them to practice the ‘3Rs’:
To do this, they should make self-care a regular part of their routine. Examples of how this can be done ‘in practice’ are given below:
- Engage in activities that instill in you a sense of joy and fulfilment.
- Devote a bit of time every day to partaking in physical activity.
- Maintain interaction with friends to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Join a support group for carer’s of people with mental ill health (of which there are loads, as a quick Google search will show you.)
- Resist the urge to do everything, instead ‘share the load’ to avoid burnout.
- Avoid taking things personally/feeling guilty for things that are out of your control/not your responsibility (you can’t be in control of everything, and nor do you need to be. Some things are better left to the Professional’s, who, like you, have your loved one’s best interests at heart.)
- Most importantly, give yourself credit for how *AMAZING*, *STRONG*, & *RESILLIENT* you truly are!