Caring for somebody with a mental illness

Caring for a person with mental illness can be both rewarding and challenging. The level of care that is required will depend on the severity of the illness. Whether the care you provide is for a brief period of recovery or for a longer time, you will need support and information to sustain you in this role.

A carer is someone who voluntarily provides ongoing care and assistance to another person who, because of mental health issues or psychiatric disability, requires support with everyday tasks. A carer might be a person’s parent, partner, child, sibling, grandparent, relative or friend.

Your role as a carer

The carer plays an important role in supporting the person with mental illness as they move through their recovery journey.

The National framework for recovery-oriented mental health services, has defined recovery as ‘being able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice, with or without the presence of mental health issues’.

Recovery is a journey, not a place or destination; a journey that is unique to each person. People with mental illness move along their journey from illness to wellness, sometimes moving forward, other times relapsing and taking a backward step. As mental illness can be episodic, so too is their recovery experience. Whatever direction people take, it is vitally important to remember that people can, and do, recover from mental illness.

Your rights as a carer

It is important for you, the carer to understand your rights. The Carers (Recognition) Act 2008, and Initiatives to support carers, details how carers are to be treated and how carers are to be involved in decision-making processes for their loved one’s treatment and care planning. The Queensland Government has developed guidelines for information sharing, between mental health workers, consumers, carers, family and significant others to discuss how everyone can work together, whilst respecting the consumer’s confidentiality.

How to support yourself while supporting others

In addition to information, carers also need practical and emotional skills to ensure they maintain their wellbeing and support.

As a carer, it's important to ensure your own physical, social and emotional needs are met so you can cope better in times of extreme stress, as well as over the longer term. This may be difficult at times and you may feel a range of emotions. Caring for someone can be emotionally and physically exhausting, so when you are looking after someone else it is important to recognise your own limitations.

Lifeline produces a range of tool kits that can be downloaded, including one for carers of people with mental illness.

Where to find help