Caregiver Challenges: Caring for Someone With Mental Illness

Taking care of someone with a mental illness can be both gratifying and challenging. Serious mental illnesses not only impact the individual, but also their families and circle of support. The responsibility of the individual’s family, spouse, or caregiver can last a lifetime.
two people holding hands

If you are caring for someone living with mental illness, learning how to navigate the role of caregiver and protect your mental health is crucial. 

The Impact of Caring for Someone with Mental Illness

Depending on the illness, caregivers are responsible for various facets of the individual’s life. They may need to provide emotional, social, financial or advocacy support. Providing support requires significant time and energy and is often overlooked. People in the role of caregiver for those with mental illness tend to be giving and loving individuals.

Caregivers might prioritize others’ needs above their own and neglect their self-care. Over time, this can lead to anxiety, depression, and the development of caregiver stress. A reported 50 percent of mental illness caregivers believe the strain of their role negatively impacts their mental health.

Tips for Caregivers

Individuals living with serious mental illnesses may experience a broad spectrum of symptoms varying in severity. Here are some strategies to provide the best care you can in the face of these challenges.

  • Learn About Mental Illness 
    The more you understand the diagnosis your loved one is facing, the better prepared you can be. Understanding symptoms, behaviours, medications, side effects, and helpful strategies will benefit you and your loved one. Learning about their mental illness can also help you find specialized help. 
  • Be Accepting
    Mental illness can impact a person’s ability to hold a steady job, take care of dependants, and provide mutual support in a relationship. Whether you are a parent, friend, or partner to someone living with a mental illness, it’s essential to consider your expectations of the individual and to remember that their illness is not who they are. If you can strive to remain open and non-judgemental and root your responses in acceptance, the potential to strengthen your bond and provide help when needed will increase. Just know that acceptance is a skill that can take time to learn. 
  • Acknowledge Feelings
    When a loved one has thoughts of hopelessness, it’s normal for the caregiver to feel afraid for them. Having empathy here is essential. Simply acknowledging how they feel and not trying to “fix” it is enough to help deescalate their thoughts. 

Caring for the Carer: Self-Care

Self-care for caregivers is critical, as it ensures you can support yourself and the individual in your care. While self-care looks different for everyone, there are general guidelines that may assist in cultivating balance.

First, you may want to consider setting boundaries around your time or how you can provide support. Remember, it isn’t within your power to “heal” or “fix” someone’s mental illness, but your support can be integral to that person finding healing for themselves.

Second, regularly check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need right now? If you need help answering these questions, check out the guide for mental health caregivers created by CMHA. It includes an exercise to decide what you need to take care of yourself and resources to create your self-care toolkit.

Third, recognize when you need professional help. We all have limits, and there may come a time when you feel that your mental health is declining. Giving too much of yourself can put your health at risk, leading to what experts identify as compassion fatigue. Here are some resources that you may want to utilize for further insight.

Interested in Learning More?

Our blog has extensive information about a variety of serious mental illnesses and treatment modalities. Learn more here

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