“You are a better carer when you look after yourself a bit, because who will look after the unwell person if you become unwell?”
You may be looking after a relative or friend on a regular basis because you care about them, or you believe it is your duty or what’s expected of you. Perhaps you spend a few hours every day helping a person with mental illness get to medical appointments, social outings or shopping; or maybe you manage all aspects of their lives 24/7.
Whatever the reasons or level of care, you may not actually identify yourself as being a carer. You may not even be aware of your need for self-care, or that there are support services and resources you can access.
While caring for someone can be rewarding, it can also be emotionally and physically challenging. If you are a long-term carer, or caring for a person with a permanent disability, terminal illness or the elderly, you may feel lonely or isolated.
You also may feel that your needs are unimportant compared to those you are caring for, and not feel entitled to seek or get help. But, as the pre-take-off flight safety instructions say: If you put your own oxygen mask on first, you’re then able to help others.
Recognising the crucial role that you play as a carer is an important first step. Take a look at the resources below to help you get started. We also have more information about how to support someone.
A closer look
There are around 2.8 million informal carers in Australia
Often several family members will care for the person with a mental illness
Sometimes the last person a carer thinks about is themselves
Consider connecting with a carer support group in your community
Nearly a fifth of carers are elderly
For people who are new to caring, it's important to educate yourself on the illness itself as much as you can. Try and join a group of carers so that you know you’re not alone.
I joined a schizophrenia support group close to where I live. I actually became the group leader for five years and found it to be very helpful. I have made good friends with some of the other carers and they are very supportive.
My advice for any family is to understand that the person isn’t doing it on purpose. Hang in there because it will get better. Get a diagnosis and find a good psychiatrist. Hang in there because with good treatment, things will get better.
My family has found different ways to cope with my daughter's mental illness. My son has joined the university gym and my husband’s taken up bike riding as a way of releasing tension.