Caring for someone with a physical illness can surely be challenging. However, if there is something that eases things in such cases, it is the fact that it is visible and easier to understand. Whereas, caring for someone with a mental illness can be more challenging and emotionally demanding as it shows little or no external signs.
If you are in the role of a caregiver for someone with mild or severe mental health problems, it is important that you get all the information you need about their condition and prepare yourself mentally for all the hurdles ahead. Here are a few tips that can help you become an effective caregiver.
Educate Yourself: I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of educating yourself about the condition the person you’re taking care of is suffering from. It not only helps you understand the problem better, but also helps you get a different perspective of looking at the challenges and finding ways to overcome them. With enough information, you’ll also be able to connect with the person and help them more effectively. Speak with an expert, go online for articles or read experiences on digital forums, it goes a long way.
Ask Open-Ended Questions: Ask questions like “how does it feel?”, “what makes it worse?”, “what makes you feel good?”, etc. Such questions may help the person feel at ease and maybe even open up to you. While it is a slow process, it will help you understand their likes and dislikes better. This can also be an initial step in building their trust in you and help you bond.
Listen Attentively: When a person with a mental health condition is sharing something with you, it’s important that you listen to them carefully and make them feel heard. It is hard for them to open up and if they do, respect that and listen attentively. However, do not pressurize them to speak up as it can turn things ugly. Also, if they hint or speak about suicide or self-harm take it seriously. Try understanding why they feel that way, instead of judging them or giving a motivational speech right away, and make sure that you inform their doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Be A Friend: Often, people with mental illness suffer from isolation and loneliness. One of the best things for a person with mental illness is having friends and family members that genuinely love them. Be a friend who cares, listens, laughs, and cries with them. Remember, your loved one doesn’t need another professional. They need a friend.
Keep Track Of Medications: If the person you’re looking after is prescribed medications, make sure that you keep a track of all of them and monitor whether the patient consumes it on time or not.
Get Proper Training: Today, there are a variety of courses available both online and offline that train caregivers. Try finding such courses near you, or take an online class. These specially designed programs can help you train yourself and may even give you some essential tips and useful hacks.
Be There For Appointments & Treatments: If the patient allows you to or needs you to be there for their appointments and treatments, make sure you stick with them. They might need you for emotional support and your presence can make the biggest difference to them. This will also give you a better insight into their illness, as well as allow you to communicate and be in touch with their medical professionals constantly.
Support A Healthy Lifestyle: Make sure that you support them in maintaining a healthy lifestyle by encouraging them to eat nutritious food, sleep on time, engage in recreational activities, and exercise.
Set Limits: It is extremely important for you to understand what you can and cannot do for them as a caregiver. You have limitations too, and it is essential for you to communicate these limitations with them to maintain a strong, healthy, and long-lasting relationship.
Manage Your Expectations: Separate your expectations from what’s actually best for the person you’re looking after. I understand that you want your loved one to get well soon, but you need to acknowledge and accept the fact that things take time, and the results may not be the same as you expected or want them to be. It goes without saying that the wellbeing of the person you’re looking after is more important than the results you expected after months or years of caring. Therefore, save yourself some disappointment and let things happen naturally, while you do your best to care for the person.
We often tend to lose ourselves in the process of taking care of others, especially when it is a dear one in need. However, you must understand that you will not be of any help if you are in a dreadful condition yourself. It’s simple, you cannot pour from an empty glass.
Sometimes things can get tough on you too, and you may react in a way that you aren’t expected to. So, to avoid that, take breaks and give yourself some rest, as caring for someone can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Plus, it will directly impact your ability to care for someone.
There are three pillars that are important in taking care of yourself, and they are – eat right, sleep well, and work out. Ensure that you eat a healthy and balanced diet and get an adequate amount of sleep, as lack of sleep can cause various psychological and physical issues. It is equally important that you maintain a simple work out routine to keep yourself fresh and energetic throughout the day.
Authored By Priyanka Varma
Priyanka Varma is a Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist. Founder of The Thought Co. an organisation that works towards mental health awareness for all, she has successfully run MHAW (Mental Health Awareness Weekend) and is actively involved in Caregiver Support for Individuals with Dementia. She is also a consultant at Global Hospitals and Holy Family Hospital.