Family Caregivers’ Mental Health

Mental illness is not contagious in the normal sense. However, if we are carers for someone with mental health issues, we know it can be stressful. That stress can, in turn, lead to the carers becoming mentally unwell themselves.

Here are some tips to help caregivers care for themselves as well:

  1. Caring for yourself is caring for them. To handle the stress and to give top quality care, you need rest, recreation, friendship and support. This is not selfishness – this is doing your best to help provide the best care. No one has enough time or money, but budget at least some of it to get a break, get some exercise, eat good food and meet people outside your home. If you are a caregiver, the one you care for needs you in top shape. You are an important resource – you deserve maintenance.
  2. Spread the load. You may be willing to be the principle caregiver but you need others to step up as well. It may be that family members are taking advantage of your willingness to help and abdicating their responsibilities to provide some care as well. Time to swat up on your assertiveness skills! Maybe you will need to find someone who will be an advocate and help you make the requests
  3. Educate family and friends. Ignorance leads to fear. Many people are afraid of mental illness, and others fear they wouldn’t know what to do. And so they stay away and don’t help. With some insights and information, many more people could become willing and really helpful. However, protect privacy: it is usually necessary to get the permission of the person you are caring for before you disclose anything about their health problems.
  4. Have Plan B. Huge amounts of stress come from worrying about whether you will be available or well enough to handle incidents. Having back-up people and support ‘ready-to-roll’ can be hugely helpful, even if you never call on them.
  5. Line up your own support. You need to know what agencies and emergency services are available if you need them, but you also need mates. Let friends know that occasionally (or regularly!) you are going to need them to take you out for coffee and give you time out with them to recharge.
  6. Get time out, and time away. It’s amazing what we can cope with when we can see light at the end of tunnel and know that there is a break coming up. The person you are caring for deserves a carer that is healthy and refreshed. They will benefit so much when you take care of yourself. Never feel guilty or neglectful for accessing respite services or arranging other carers so you can take a break.
  7. Act promptly about your own health needs. Being strong for someone else doesn’t mean that you should endure mental or physical problems without getting help. Doctors and counsellors are not just for the people we are caring for!
  8. Beware of false comforts. If we feel trapped in our role, and we lack money for pastimes and other fun, it is so easy to turn to drinking, over-eating, smoking and maybe even doing drugs to provide a little comfort. You do need comfort and recreation, but you need the ‘real thing’ and not health-robbing imitations. 
  9. Tap into resources. There are many websites with good ideas on how to care for someone with mental health problems, and also how to take care of yourself, such as: and
  10. Are you getting all the resources you are entitled to? It pays to check, and check, and recheck that you are receiving the benefits and support services you are entitled to. Citizens Advice and your doctor can often help, but so can (or phone 0800 211 211)
  11. Know that you are important! We may not get paid much for it, or even get paid at all, but the service we provide is vital. Caring like this can be so under-appreciated, but we know why we are doing it. Acting out of love, loyalty and a desire to do the right thing is genuinely rewarding, even if those rewards don’t make it into our wallet!