Explains how to cope when supporting someone else, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.
If you support someone with a mental health problem, you may face slightly different or extra challenges. We've listed some of these challenges along with tips and suggestions that have helped other people.
"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."
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Elefriends community.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
This information was published in March 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.