for better mental health

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.

"Caring for someone with a mental health condition is hard. The invisibility of the illness can make it feel like you're not a "real" carer. Trust me: you are. And you're making a huge difference to someone's life."

Coping as a carer

Watch Chloe, Ally and Kate talk about what it's like to care for someone with a mental health problem and how they look after themselves.

I've never really seen myself as a carer

If you don't do many physical caring tasks, you may not really see yourself as a carer. But there are lots of other ways you might support someone. For example you might:

  • provide emotional support
  • help them to manage day-to-day tasks
  • support them when things are more challenging
  • advocate for them
  • encourage and support them to seek help
  • make phone calls for them
  • encourage them to feel confident about making decisions
  • be there for them during treatment.

You may find that other people (for example family and friends) don't see you as a carer either. It may help to show them this information.

Photo of Kate and her partner relaxed and smiling

Caring for my husband with bipolar

"...I wanted to let others know that caring is lonely and exhausting but that help is there."

I don't think I help much

You may feel frustrated that you can't make someone feel better or as if you are not 'enough' to make them happy. But, like physical illness, mental health problems can affect anyone. No one can prevent someone else from having a mental health problem.

You're probably helping a lot more than you think. If possible, try talking to them about how you help already. Try to build up a clear idea about what you can do and accept parts that you can't do alone or things that you cannot change. Accepting what's possible and being aware of your limits can help you feel less helpless.

I don't really understand what they are going through

If you haven't experienced a mental health problem, it can be difficult to understand what it's like. Ask them to try and explain – but remember it isn't always easy to describe. They may want to look at our information, blogs and short films to find something that puts it into the right words for them.

You might find it helpful to have a look at these kinds of resources as well. Learning about a mental health problem and hearing from other people can really help you understand what someone is experiencing and how you can help.

How I came to understand my girlfriend's depression

"I had no idea that it could be a recurring illness – a lifetime struggle."

I'm worried I'm doing the wrong thing

It's hard to know how much care to give or what to do for the best. You may be worried that they're becoming too dependent on you or that things you do are not really helpful in the long term. All our online resources on different diagnoses have a section for friends and family, which can be a good place to start.

The person you care for might not always be able to explain what would help in the moment. Some people find it helpful to set up little systems for communicating – for example you could make colours stand for different needs, like this:

  • Blue – I love you but I need to be alone.
  • Amber – I can't talk but I do need company.
  • Red – I'm feeling angry and irritable but it's not because of you.
  • Black – I'm feeling vulnerable today.

When someone is unwell, it can sometimes be easier to say 'I'm feeling amber' than to find the words. Different things work for different people – try to find something that works for you both.

Some people won't feel willing or able to tell you when their mood has changed and what they need. This can make it really hard for you and it's understandable if you sometimes get things wrong. Over time you might find that you can interpret how they are feeling and what they need from their expressions and behaviour.

You might also find it helpful to seek out online support from other people who have a mental health problem or who support someone else. For example, you could have a look at Mind's Side by Side community.

They won't seek help – but their behaviour is making life a struggle

If you feel that they need support but can't or won't reach out for help, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless.

It's important to accept that there are always limits to what you can do to support them. Have a look at our information on what you can (and can't) do when someone can't or won't seek help.

Sometimes you might feel that you recognise signs they are becoming unwell before they do. You could try and prepare for this by making a list of signs together while they are well. This can make things easier to talk about when you do notice things changing. You may need to decide together how they want you to help if they get ill again.

"While I helped him with the day-today things he found overwhelming, I also was mentally his carer too. I was combating his negativity ever day, trying to cajole him into keeping going."

Caring and confidentiality

You may feel as if you have the right to know more about their treatment. Not knowing may make you feel excluded or unable to help. The Royal College of Psychiatrists website has some useful information about what information health professionals can share with you and how you can make sure that you plan for times when they are unwell.

They push me away or say things that upset me when they are unwell

You might find that they say or do upsetting things sometimes. It's easy to take difficult feelings out on the person you are closest to. They may push you away but get upset if you leave. They may find it harder to be patient or get angry more easily. They may even feel convinced that you are a threat to them in some way.

It's understandable to be upset and hurt. Try to remember that they are dealing with difficult moods, emotions or experiences. Take some time out if you are finding things too difficult. It may also help to talk to friends, family or other carers for support.

Your mental health is important too. You need to decide how much support you can offer and when you need to put your own needs first.

Our relationship is changing

Mental health problems can affect moods, emotions and behaviours. It may feel as if their personality is changing and they're not the person they used to be. This can affect your relationship. You might find that your relationship feels unbalanced or that you only ever do 'caring' things together.

It can help to try and see the mental health problem as something separate from you both – an external challenge to deal with together. Have a look at our information on the positive side of caring for someone too.

Managing mental health in a relationship

"We've set ourselves up as a team, dealing with it together."

It's really hard to get them the help they need

The mental health system is complicated and severely underfunded. You may find yourself having to fight for the right support for them. Our information on supporting someone else to seek help may be useful. You may also find it helpful to have a look at our information on advocacy.

I'm worried about their safety

If you are worried that they may harm themselves or others, you may find it helpful to have a look at our information on helping someone who is self-harming and what you can do in an emergency.

It can be very emotionally draining to be worried about the safety of someone you love. It's important to make sure you support yourself too.

I'm worried about what other people think

You might be worried about how other people will treat them – or how they will treat you as a carer.

Stigma and misunderstanding can be upsetting, especially if it comes from friends or family, colleagues or even healthcare professionals. It can make mental health problems feel difficult to talk about but it's important to remember you are not alone.

Here are some options for you to think about:

  • Show people Mind's information to help them understand more about mental health.
  • Talk about your experience. Sharing your story can help improve people's understanding and change their attitudes.
  • Know your rights. Our pages on legal rights provide more information.
  • Take action by campaigning with Mind. See our campaigning page for details of the different ways you can get involved with helping us challenge stigma.

Looking after a young person with a mental health problem

Looking after a young person with a mental health problem can create additional strains and worries. You may blame yourself or feel helpless and frustrated that you can't help them feel better. You may bear the brunt of their emotions and anger.

It's common to think that as a parent you 'should' be able to cope – but you don't need to do this on your own and help is available. Talk to people around you and ask for their help, or if you don't have family, friends or a community that you feel you can turn to for support, have a look at what help is available in your area.

We have a hub of information for young people aged 11-18, and information for parents, which may help you to support your young person.

YoungMinds also has information for parents who are worried about their child, and a Parents Helpline you can contact for free confidential advice.

This information was published in March 2017. 

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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