How to cope when supporting someone else

Explains how to cope when supporting someone else, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Your stories

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How can supporting someone else affect your mental health?

Supporting someone else can affect your mental health and make it harder to stay well. Although you may really want to care for them, you may also find it difficult and upsetting.

Below is a list of challenges that you might face. If you think any of these are affecting you, have a look at our pages on looking after yourself and support for you.

I got no support and I didn't really know that there was anywhere or anyone I could turn to. It had a huge impact on my mental health. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression.

Listen to Bryony talk about being a carer with bipolar.

It’s definitely just the feeling of a gradual sort of mini tornado inside you that’s spiralling, or beginning to spiral out of control.

She tells us how she copes day to day, including having her own time at the gym and getting creative in the kitchen.

Listen now

Stress and worry

You may often feel stressed and worried if you're caring for someone else. You could spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of the illness and what will happen in the future. You might find it hard to switch off. If you feel this way over a long time, it can have a big impact on your mental health and you can become unwell.

Anxiety

Many carers say that they feel a constant anxiety about the person they care for. If your feelings of anxiety are strong or last for a very long time, they can become overwhelming.

Less (or no) time for yourself

You'll probably have less time to look after yourself (for example being physically active, eating healthy food and relaxing). You may feel as though your health takes a back seat or you don't have time to get the help you need. Have a look at our page on looking after yourself and our information on the people and organisations that can help you.

The hardest thing for me is I can never forget I am a carer. Even if I get some ‘me time’, first I have to organise alternative care and if I can’t get it, I have to cancel what I wanted to do.

Isolation and loneliness

You might have less time to socialise or carry on with hobbies and interests. If you've given up work, you may not see the people you used to. You might find that the relationship with the person you look after has changed and you don't feel as close.

You might feel as though your life is very different and other people don't understand how you're feeling. You might find it hard to ask for help or to let people know you are a carer and why.

This can make you feel very lonely. Over time, social isolation can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Money worries

You may have to pay for extra care, medical or travel costs. This can put a strain on your finances, especially if you're not getting enough financial support or benefits. You may have to cut down on work or juggle work and caring which can be difficult, especially if you are/were the main wage earner. Debt and money worries can be linked to mental health problems.

Lack of sleep

If you're supporting someone who needs help at night – or you're very worried and stressed – you may not get as much sleep as you need. Not getting enough sleep can affect your mental health.

Depression

You may find that the challenges you face when looking after someone else can make you feel low or depressed. If you feel very frustrated or hopeless you may have thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life. You might also develop unhelpful coping strategies to deal with difficult feelings, such as using drugs or alcohol, or eating more or less than you need to.

Frustration, anger and guilt

You may feel frustrated, resentful or angry – especially if you've given up parts of your own life. You might feel you have been given no choice about the situation.

You might end up directing this anger at family or at the person you support – which in turn could make you feel guilty.

Low self-esteem

Looking after someone else can have a big impact on your self-esteem. You might feel that all your time should be focused on them. You might lose confidence in yourself and your abilities to do anything except supporting someone else. If you gave up work, you may feel that you have lost an important part of yourself.

The positive side of looking after someone else

As well as the challenges and difficulties caring for someone else might present, it can also be a really positive and rewarding experience to know you are helping someone else.

Some carers say that they feel they have learnt more about their own strengths and helped other people understand the illness, problem or disability. Others get a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that they are making a real difference to the life of the person they care for.

Through your experience of supporting someone else, you may find that you become more confident in dealing with other people and more understanding of others with problems.

Caring could also mean you become closer to friends and family or meet new people who can help you.

It isn’t easy. There are times when it is desperate, exhausting and miserable. But overall I think we’re stronger, more honest and more resilient as a [couple].


This information was published in March 2017. We will revise it in 2020.


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