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Top three tips for caring for someone with poor mental health

I have supported my mum since I was young, through poor mental and physical health. It is fair to say it has not been plain sailing. But it has taught me a lot. 

Everyone wants to be that person who, somehow, makes it look so easy.  I tried to make it appear that way to the outside world, but below the surface my legs were frantically kicking to keep us all afloat.

My mum's physical health always seemed manageable, an awful situation and incredibly stressful yes, but it was known. But so often her poor mental health would hit me and my family like a runaway train. Unexpected. Destabilising. Devastating. Exhausting.

Over time, I learned to better manage it all. It's still tough, still catches me out, it still impacts me, but it is a start. 

Illustration of three people talking. One person is in a wheelchair whilst another is holding a clipboard.
Illustration of three people talking.

I wish I had known so much of what I have learnt at the start, so in honour of Mental Health Week, I thought I would share my top 3 tips for caring for someone with poor mental health! I hope it helps, even a little.

1. Drop the guilt

We could always do more, but don't let that turn into "I'm not doing enough"

When supporting someone with their mental health good times and bad times are unpredictable. And the downs don't always correspond to the times when you are in a position to support as much as you would like to - we all have our own lives to manage.  It can be an awful feeling, you feel like a failure, selfish, not good enough. 

It is easier to say than to do - but try to not let those feelings get on top of you. We are all trying our best. You are doing your best. 

I'm still working on this one.

2. Speak in the first person 

Communication is so important. When it works well it feels like everyone can be honest, feel validated and importantly feel understood. But the reality is, it very rarely works well. 

Too often, things are said in the heat of the moment; when you're exhausted, when it's got too much or when you just can't face it. These can leave little pieces of shrapnel in each other's minds. 

Countless times, often months later, those bits of shrapnel have been festering, conversations that I had largely forgotten about suddenly blow up.

I try to speak in the first person as much as possible: 

"I am worried that you are not eating well. It upsets me that you are not leaving the house" rather than, "You don't eat properly and never leave the house."

It expresses how you feel rather than placing a judgement on the actions of the other. It's not a silver bullet but often helps ensure a conversation does not escalate at the time or fester later. 

3. Be informed

It can often feel like you are trying to solve problems at a crisis point,  and chances are you'll already be exhausted and stressed.

It doesn't always feel like it, but there are others who have gone / are going through the same.

You build confidence in yourself by  knowing you are not alone, that there is a way though it and knowing what you can expect to come so you can prepare for it.

There are loads of great blogs, books, videos out there and amazing supportive communities like Mobilise. Read up, join our free Virtual Cuppas, to meet other unpaid carers and ask questions - I can promise you, you can feel the weight lifting from your shoulders as you do it. 

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