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Supporting yourself while caring for someone

Learn how to manage your own wellbeing while caring for someone else. Get information and tips on looking after your mental health and finding support.

Caring for someone with a mental health problem

You might be caring for someone with a physical health problem, a mental health problem, or both. For mental health problems, you may face slightly different or additional challenges.

This page lists some of these, along with advice and suggestions that have helped other people.

If you need practical information on organisations that can support you, see our page on support for carers.

We have further information and support for people who care for a young person with mental health problems.

"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."

You don't really see yourself 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 in challenging times
  • advocate for them (see our pages about advocacy)
  • encourage and support them to seek help
  • make phone calls for them
  • encourage them to feel confident in making decisions
  • be there for them during treatment.

You may find that other people, such as 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."

You don't think you help much

You may feel frustrated that you can't make someone feel better, or as if you're not 'enough' to make them happy. But like physical health conditions, 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 might make you feel less helpless.

You don't 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. You could both look at our mental health information, blogs and short videos. These resources might help them find something that puts it into the right words.

Learning about a mental health problem and hearing from other people might be useful for you. It can help you understand what the person is experiencing and how you can help.

Path lined with trees

How I came to understand my girlfriend's depression

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

Worried you're 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 you might feel that things you do aren't really helpful in the long term.

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. It's understandable if you sometimes get things wrong. Over time, you might be able to interpret their feelings and needs from their expressions and behaviour.

They 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 talk about colours as different needs:

  • 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 suits you both.

You might find it helpful to seek out online mental health support. Online support comes from people who have mental health problems, or who support others. You could join Mind's community Side by Side. Our resources on mental health problems each contain a section for friends and family, which you might find useful. 

Worried about their safety

You might feel worried that they may harm themselves or others. We have detailed 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. Our pages on self-care and support for carers list some ideas you can try.

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 coming from friends or family, colleagues or healthcare professionals. It can make mental health problems feel difficult to talk about. But it's important to remember you are not alone.

If you're worried about what others think, you could try the following:

  • Talk about your experience by sharing your story. This can help improve people's understanding and change their attitudes. Find out more about writing a blog for Mind.
  • Take action by campaigning with Mind. For details of different ways you can get involved with helping us challenge stigma, see our campaigns.
  • Show people Mind's information to help them understand more about mental health. You can show them the website or save information as a PDF to print out. Some of our information is available in print format.

"I just want other carers out there to know they are not alone. Take all the support you can, read the articles on Mind and understand what you, your family and your loved one are dealing with."

Your relationship is changing

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

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

Managing mental health in a relationship

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

They won't get help

They may need support but can't or won't reach out for help. Or they may refuse to accept any help you offer. It's understandable for you to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless if so.

Sometimes you might be able to recognise signs they are becoming unwell. 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 become unwell again.

It's important to acknowledge that there are always limits to the support you can offer. Our page on helping someone seek help explains more about what you can and cannot do.

Can you make someone get help with their mental health?

Lucy from Mind answers one of the hardest questions we get on our helpline – can you make someone get help?

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 Rethink charity offers useful advice on confidentiality and information sharing.

You might also need to consider who is responsible for future arrangements. For details, see our legal information on care planning after leaving hospital and rights of the nearest relative.

They push you away or say upsetting things

You might find that they say or do upsetting things sometimes, such as when they're unwell. People tend to take difficult feelings out on those closest to them. They may:

  • push you away but get upset if you leave
  • find it harder to be patient or get angry more easily
  • feel convinced that you are somehow a threat to them, an experience of paranoia.

It's understandable that you might feel 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
  • 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 to put your own needs first.

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.

It's hard to get them the help they need

The mental health system is complicated. It can sometimes be difficult to access the services we need. 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.

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

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 for the way they are feeling
  • feel helpless and frustrated that you can't help them feel better
  • 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. If you don't have family, friends or a community you can turn to for support, there are other options.

This information was published in May 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

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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