How you can help mental health carers

A blog to mark Carers Week 2017

I’m a carer. An unpaid mental health carer. And an active mental health carer campaigner. It’s not all of me, but it’s a very important part of how I’ve chosen to be. I’m proud that I care.

It’s very easy for us – unpaid carers – to become apologetic and lose self-confidence when we tell someone new that we’re an unpaid mental health carer. Because people tend to respond to the news in one of four ways (all unhelpful):

People switch off. Distance themselves from you. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe my face becomes a mirror reflecting big stuff they’d prefer to sweep under the carpet? Things like ill-health, lack of control? Perhaps they’re frightened? Best leave this alone because I’m digging myself a wee hole.

People start saying strange things to me like: “You’ll get your reward in heaven.” Framing me as if I’m some sort of sad soul totting-up the points to my miraculous assent to heaven. Is this a tiny bit patronising or is it just me (being “sensitive”)?

People start interrogating me, questioning my judgement: “Why didn’t you . . . . . Why don’t you” Framed in a way that they have the answers to my “problem”. Problem is I don’t see how I choose to live my life as a problem it’s how I’ve chosen to be because it’s important to me to be that way (to care).

People presume you don’t work and time is not important to you. Untrue. My experiences as a carer have blended into my professional life so that everyone gains from the “journey” I happen to have been on with others.

So what can you do to help me and other carers?

If you care about us, please ask the 3 hows:

How is . . . . . . [the person you’re caring for]? I love it when people ask me this question because it tells me that they understand a bit about my life and what’s important to me; and that they care about me and the person who I care for. 

How are you? 50% of carers will become unwell because of their caring role. So the more you can remind us to take care and look after ourselves the better.

How can I help? Little acts of kindness go a long, long way; and can turn a tough day into a better, brighter one. 

We’re all in this together. It’s just that some of us – at some point on the dial – have chosen to step into the world of the unwell to help someone out a bit; and they’re helping us in some way that we might not even understand yet. 

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