Supporting a loved one with mental illness

Starting in late June 2021, Greater Sydney is now experiencing its first significant lockdown since the pandemic’s first National lockdown began in March 2020. In the current lockdown affecting Greater Sydney, it can be challenging to consider how to balance being able to support the loved one with whom you are living with, who has a mental health condition while still practising self-care.

There is such a wide spectrum of mental health conditions, and their severity, so it is difficult to provide tips that will suit everyone. Looking after a loved one who has a mental health condition can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during the current COVID-19 pandemic and changing restrictions, including lockdown. Even in personal relationships where no significant mental health conditions exist, relationships between loved ones can be put under pressure when there is little personal space, where personal needs such as sleep times conflict, and where there is the added challenge of working from home. Therefore, knowing that most people are facing challenges during this time of lockdown may be helpful in accepting and working with the challenges, rather than trying to fight them.

Look after yourself

In order to care for any loved ones, whether they are children or teenagers, or an adult who has a mental health condition, the most important consideration is to look after yourself. You cannot provide good care to anyone else if you are flailing with your own welfare. Take some time for yourself every day to sleep, read, watch television, or partake in an activity you enjoy. You will then be in a better frame of mind to be able to devote time to and support your loved one.

Make a plan

Regardless of their mental health condition, your loved one also needs to have time for them self every day to sleep, read, watch television, or partake in an activity they enjoy. If they have difficulty with self-motivation or planning to do any of these activities, this is where you are able to provide support. Make a plan with them, outlining an activity that each person will do individually, as well as an activity that can be done together; this allows for control and understanding of what is autonomous and what is togetherness, therefore allowing time and space apart as well as an opportunity to come together. Not everyone does well with a structured plan, and as such an alternative is to try to agree with how you see each day unfold and reach agreement on communication around each other’s needs.

Accept the current situation

Recognising that these are different times and that they will pass may help any frustration that arises between each of you. Arrange a word or saying between you that indicates that either of you needs “time out” or a change in what is happening at the time; and be prepared for interruptions in whatever you are doing in order to resolve any difficulties as they arise rather than allow them to get to the point where either of you “explodes”.

Reach out for support

Living with a loved one who has a mental health condition likely has you in a “routine” in terms of when you need to seek appropriate medical or psychological assistance for the person. While you are both in lockdown and in close proximity to each other all the time, you are in the fortunate position of being able to monitor how your loved one’s mental health may be changing. Do not hesitate to seek medical or psychological assistance for your loved one if you notice a deterioration in their condition – reach out to their treating practitioners or to services such as Lifeline (13 11 14) and Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636).

Beyond Blue has an online community where you can share your thoughts and concerns with others, which can assist with you realising that you are not alone in terms of supporting your loved one during these difficult times and where you can ask questions of people who are in a similar situation, and obtain and share tips for specific issues that individually arise  (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums).  As someone on one of the forums posted, being a Carer is a great role in terms of helping and supporting your loved one; however, you do not have to be a miracle worker.