It’s normal to put your own needs and feelings aside while supporting or caring for someone who is going through mental health difficulties. This can be fine for a short time but it’s important to take care of yourself, especially as time goes by.

The role of a carer

A carer is anyone who cares for (or provides regular support to) a friend or family member. The friend or family member may need care due to a mental health problem, illness, disability, addiction or any problem that means they need support. Carers can be family, a partner or a close friend. Children and young people can also be carers to someone in their family. Looking after a loved one is rewarding but it can also be overwhelming at times.

Dealing with your feelings

You might feel stressed, angry, guilty, lonely or sad when caring for someone. The key thing to understand is there’s no right way for you to feel. Everyone is different. Feelings come and go. And that’s absolutely fine.  Give yourself time to think your feelings through. Talk with someone you trust if your feelings get in the way of your daily life or last longer than usual. A G.P. may also be able to help.

Carer support - things that might help

  • Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes when overwhelmed, tired or when we have a lot on our minds. We’re human.

  • It's okay to show your feelings when you’re sad or upset. Cry or express your feelings your way. You don't have to pretend to be cheerful.

  • Focus on things that are really worth your time and energy. Let small things go for now.

  • Don’t be harsh on yourself. Whatever you’re doing, it’s the best you can do right now. Whatever you did, it was the best you could do then.

  • Spend time alone to think about your feelings. You need your own time and space to make sense of things.

Caring for yourself

  • Do something for yourself each day. It doesn't matter how small it is. The healthier you are, the better you will be at caring.

  • Find enjoyable things you can do for yourself. You could watch TV, call a friend, or spend some time on a hobby - anything that you like.

  • Be active. Even light exercise such as walking, stretching, playing with the kids, gardening or dancing can make you feel less tired.

  • Make sure you don’t miss out on your regular health check-ups or skip medication that you should be taking.

  • Stay connected with your friends and loved ones. Are there places you can meet people close to you? Can you chat or get support by phone or email?

  • Give yourself a break. Ask friends or family members to pitch in. Take time to rest.

  • Join a carer support group. You’re not alone. Many other people are dealing with similar situations and can have helpful advice.

Unwanted help

Sometimes, you get offers of help that you really don’t need.  How do you turn the offer down without causing offence? Thank the person for their concern and tell them you’re taking steps to support your loved on and you’ll let them know if you need anything.

Caring for your partner

Nearly all home carers and their partners feel more stress than usual in their relationship caused by the many decisions and changes. Some couples find that their bonds get stronger when one experiences a mental health problem. Others find they get weaker.

Helping each other

  • Talk about how each of you feels. How are you each managing to cope? When something is stressing both of you discuss the choices you could make together to reduce the stress.

  • Make time to focus on things besides the mental health problem. Don’t let it take over your lives. It’s important, it may be urgent but it’s not everything.

  • Talk with your partner if you find that your sex life has changed. Tiredness and stress can affect physical relationships but they are not permanent. It’s important to be honest and talk things through.

More information:

HSE.ie provides a dedicated site with information for carers and signposting to relevant services. You can find out more at www.hse.ie/carers.