I really hope that if the past 12 months has just taught us anything, is that mental health is not something that a small proportion of the population experience, but a vital part of our overall well-being that everyone has.
So often forgotten, not prioritised, or perhaps not taken seriously by many, I believe there still needs to be a more open and honest dialogue on how we support our minds, as well as our bodies. Not only will a more open forum help those suffering, but also support the huge numbers of loved ones, and carers that provide unconditional support for mental health sufferers. The support network of those suffering with mental health conditions varies from person to person, whether that’s a husband, girlfriend, mum or dad, perhaps a friend, or a care worker, but whatever their role, their focus is the same, unconditional support. Therefore, the need for all of us to be more aware of the huge responsibility and pressure that falls on those caring and supporting loved ones with mental health conditions is so important.
For many years I played a role in helping shield a partner’s mental health suffering from those that he was close to, mainly because of his fear of judgement and the stigma that was and still is, in my opinion attached to mental health. His suffering was real, often camouflaged, and so often misunderstood and unless you’ve experienced the same feelings you won’t even begin to imagine how those feelings affect the lives of those experiencing it, as well as those absorbed by it. I remember those feelings all too well, and have reflected on them so many times that they have helped me become more aware of my own mental health and how I can support it. I know how different things would have been if there had been less ignorance, more support and a more open dialogue as there is today.
When you love someone, you naturally want the world for that person, and caring and supporting someone with a mental health problem can so often take on the guise as the ‘fixer’. What I say next I say with caution, as it’s by no means meant to diminish what those suffering are going through, but I simply want to raise awareness of the role of the carer/supporter in the relationship. I only have my experience to reflect on, but I think there’s a whole world of carers out there that are afraid to speak up, for fear of judgement. The role of the carer, or supporter in any form of health is often over looked or perhaps not given enough acknowledgment or help. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to anyone that this resonates with, you matter too.
When my partner told me that he had depression, I was confused, felt helpless and didn’t know where to turn for help. I remember searching for answers online, for any support groups that I could reach out to for guidance on what I should do. One thing is for sure, the platforms available to access help for those suffering with mental health are so much more available now than they were 10/20 years ago, but one thing which is still less visible is support or guidance for those trying to support that person. Recently I’ve been doing some research on this subject I came across an amazing Podcast by Paul McGregor, a total inspiration, who talks about the role of the carer/supporter and his personal experiences of losing his Dad to suicide. So many things that Paul talks about in this episode resonated with me, especially as he talks about his own self care.
When my own relationship ended I spent a long time reflecting on what I could have done differently, in terms of the role I played in his mental health. The thing what I didn’t understand back then, is that how that person manages and support their mental health condition is largely out of your control, the only thing that is, is your perspective and perception of it. I was very naïve on how his suffering could bring me down and in turn there were two of us suffering in very different ways. The role you play as a supporter is so key, but it should come from a place of support and not control, supporting the person and not their depression. If I could give my younger self some advice I would say, educate yourself, understand depression, and then be there for him by listening rather than trying to be the fixer.
When you’re supporting someone with a mental health condition, there can be tendency to have tunnel vision, which can, over time lead to losing the meaning of your life too. So, if you are a supporter, or carer I can’t stress enough the importance of looking after your own health, mentally and physically. Be kind to yourself, try not to get lost, remember to consider your needs and although I know it’s so hard to do, try and reserve something for you. I’ve been there, I know it’s so hard when you love someone, but ask yourself this, what good are you to anyone if don’t look after yourself?
There are so many things we all could be doing better with regards to our own mental health, but I also believe we could be educating ourselves on how best to support those suffering. Comments like ‘snap out of it’, ‘aren’t they just being a bit self indulgent’, ‘what have they got to be sad about’, ‘many people would love your life’, or even ‘she doesn’t seem the type’, are not helpful, are very misguided and show a complete lack of awareness.
If you know someone that is struggling with their mental health, or you know the person who is supporting them on their difficult journey, why not reach out and show your support, it might make all the difference.
Here are a few brilliant resources that may help.