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An introduction to caring for someone with a mental health condition

Published
25/07/23

Caring for someone with a mental health condition can often feel different to other caring roles. It can often involve lots of change and it may be that no two days look the same; in some caring situations, the caring role may even come and go. It can therefore be difficult for some carers who support someone with a mental health condition to recognise their caring role and how it differs from ‘being there’ for their relative or friend. Identifying as a carer for someone with a mental health condition can help to you access more support for you in your caring role.

Below we explore what caring for someone with a mental health condition can look like including caring from a distance, understanding the role and rights of a carer when someone is admitted to hospital or sectioned and looking after yourself when caring for someone with a mental health condition.

Mental health conditions

A mental health condition is an illness which impacts someone’s thoughts, emotions, motivation and ability to manage day to day tasks. It can also affect their relationships with others and how they cope in difficult situations. There are three main categories of mental health condition; mood based conditions, anxiety based conditions and personality based conditions. To find out more about some of the common mental health conditions including an overview of the condition, symptoms and possible treatment, you can read our introduction to 'Understanding different mental health conditions' below.

What does caring for someone with a mental health condition look like?

Caring for someone with a mental health condition can vary greatly. It can depend on the relationship with the person you support, their care needs, the symptoms of their condition and the support in place. As the symptoms of a mental health condition can change, the caring role can often change too.

However, some of the things that carers have told us are part of their caring role include:

  • Providing emotional support.
  • Helping someone to access treatment when they experience difficulties relating to their mental health condition.
  • Speaking to professionals on their behalf.

Some mental health conditions can affect someone’s ability to look after themselves independently which can mean that carers in this caring situation are involved in personal and physical care too.

 

 

This might include:

  • Prompting someone to eat or drink.
  • Reminding them to take medication.
  • Supporting them with showering and getting dressed.

Alongside these, a caring role can also sometimes involve helping someone to manage their day-to-day tasks such as:

  • Assisting with housework.
  • Helping them maintaining relationships with family and friends.

It can also include being on standby which means that you are available if the person you care for needs immediate support to manage their condition.

Caring from a distance

Caring for someone with a mental health condition can involve supporting someone to meet their own needs, to continue to be independent when experiencing symptoms of their condition (where possible) and to support the person they care for to maintain the best quality of life they can. In many caring situations, carers can do some or all parts of their caring role from a distance. This means that you do not need to live with, or near the person you support to be a carer.

 

Examples of caring roles which carers can do from a distance include:

  • Checking in and providing emotional support over the phone.
  • Encouraging them to engage in an activity or task.
  • Managing their finances or hospital appointments.
  • Overseeing deliveries of prescriptions, food or other essentials.
  • Speaking to professionals on their behalf.
  • Coordinating support through family, friends or people in their support network.

For more information on caring from a distance including the role of a carer ‘on standby’ and things which have helped other carers who support someone from a distance, you can read our article on it here.

When supporting someone who has a mental health condition, there may times where they need hospital treatment to manage their illness. This can involve being treated at A&E or being admitted onto a ward where they can access different treatment or support to help them manage a mental health crisis.

If the person has experienced a mental health crisis where they are in immediate danger to themselves or others due to their mental health condition, they can also be ‘sectioned’. This means that, under the Mental Health Act, they must receive treatment for their mental health condition. There are various ways someone can be sectioned which you can find out more about here.

When the person you support is in hospital for their mental health condition, it is important for you, as their carer to be able to share information and find out information about their care needs. This includes the treatment being received and the plan in place for when they are discharged from hospital. For more information on how you can be involved in their care during their hospital admission, you can read our Hospital Discharge Toolkit here

If the person you support has given permission for health professionals to speak to you about their condition, there may be situations where you are asked to make decisions on their behalf. This can be due to a range of reasons including the person not having the capacity to make decisions and health professionals involving carers in hospital discharge. Whilst you cannot force someone to access support (unless they have been sectioned), you do have a right to be consulted around the care given to the person you support. For more information on making decisions, read our article.

When supporting someone with a mental health condition, there may be times where you need to help them to manage a mental health crisis. This can be challenging for the individual and those around them and so it can helpful for carers to think about how they might plan for an emergency situation. This can enable carers to put steps in place more easily and make it feel more easier to manage. For example, a Mental health action plan can be used by carers as a resource that includes important information like important contact information, a list of medication, potential triggers, steps to be taken if they are in crisis and what happens if they are admitted (or sectioned). You can find a template mental health action plan here.

There are also a number of other ways that carers can plan for an emergency including an Emergency Response Plan for if something happens to you as the carer which affects your ability to carry out your caring role. This ensures that the right support is put in place quickly for the individual with the mental health condition. For more information on how to plan for an emergency, you can read our full help and advice topic. 

Looking after yourself when supporting someone with a mental health condition

Supporting someone with a mental health condition can have its tough moments, especially if they experience a mental health crisis. It is therefore important that you are able to take time to meet your own needs alongside your caring role. Maintaining your wellbeing is essential when thinking about caring for someone long term.

Managing your wellbeing is all about finding the things that help you to look after your own physical and mental health needs. It includes meeting your practical needs like food and sleep but also encompasses the self-care activities which you might do that help you to rest and recharge. Read more about looking after your mental health when supporting someone with a mental health condition, including our list of self-care starters.

Accessing support for you as a carer

Being a carer for someone with a mental health condition can have a big impact on your wellbeing at times but we are here to support you. If you are in a Carers First supported area, you can find your local support here. For local support in other areas, you can find your local Carers Organisation here.

As a carer for someone with a mental health condition, you can access all of our online events and courses for carers. Information on all of our upcoming online events can be found in your local support area of the website, as linked above. 

If you would like to speak to someone about your caring role, you can speak to a member of our Helpline on 0300 303 1555.

Caring for someone with a mental health condition can often present unique challenges, making it feel different from other caring roles. That’s why we have created with carers and our teams, this guide to help you access relevant information and support for you and the person you care for, in an easy-to-use checklist.

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