If you are supporting a person who is experiencing mental health challenges, it is essential to look after your own mental health and wellbeing. This information might be particularly relevant if you are a parent or carer but may also be useful if you are a partner or friend providing key support to a young person
Caring for yourself can sustain you, and also models healthy habits for the young person you are supporting. Practising self-care can also enhance your capacity to effectively care for your young person.
In plane travel, passengers are advised, in the event of an emergency, to apply the oxygen mask to themselves first so that they can assist a fellow passenger.
Looking after yourself is not selfish
Parents and carers can experience poor physical health, social isolation, anxiety, depression and financial loss as a result of their caring role. You might be juggling many competing needs and feel pulled in different directions. In addition to caring for a young person who is experiencing mental health challenges, you may be working, taking care of other children and maintaining a household. Parents and carers supporting their young person often feel they are being selfish if they attend to their own needs. This can result in denying important needs.
Signs that your support role is impacting your wellbeing
- Physical – tiredness, body aches, weight gain or loss, high blood pressure or other health challenges
- Emotional – anxiety, sadness, teary, ‘short fuse’
- Self-blame – the question “What did I do wrong?” getting in the way of feeling good about yourself as a parent or carer
- Work life – impacted if you are distracted, or need to take time off
- Changed family relationships – the ripple effect of mental ill health across the whole family.
What can I do?
Share the responsibility
If possible, share the responsibility of supporting your young person with other members of your family - it doesn’t have to be solely your job. If it isn’t possible in your immediate family, maybe there are people in your extended network of family and friends who can help. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is about the power of a shared commitment to care and support a young person.
Share your experience with a supportive friend or family member but remember, you can always seek professional support if needed.
Accept care from others
Remember, your circle of family and friends is crucial to your own wellbeing. Identify the support people who care about your young person and you. Work out who you trust to talk with openly and honestly, knowing they won’t judge or tell you what you should do. It can be helpful to talk with others who understand and have had similar experiences.
Being strong does not mean that you can’t accept small acts of kindness or offers of support. It’s OK to receive from others who want to give to you. A gift that gives you ‘time out’ or an opportunity to enjoy something you love can allow you to feel restored during what might be a tough time.
Don’t let go of what grounds you
Sometimes the responsibility of supporting someone experiencing mental health challenges can sap your resources and leave little space for the things in life that give you pleasure. If you experience a sense of belonging through connecting with people that share beliefs, traditions or similar passions, then it can be an act of self-care to continue or reclaim this activity.
Finding ways to expand and appreciate these joys, no matter how small, is important to nurture your own mental health and wellbeing. Making a commitment to incorporate the simple pleasures in life can sustain you day-to-day and long term.
What lifts your spirit or gives you energy? Pets, the beach, running, singing, connecting with nature, meditation?
Be kind to yourself
Often self-blame goes with the experience of being a parent or carer. Being realistic and having compassion for yourself is important, especially if the self-blame is ‘kicking in’ or if the expectations of yourself are too high. Consider what it would be like if you talked to yourself like how you would talk to a friend in the same situation. You might encourage a friend to not be so hard on themselves and affirm their efforts. These messages can help with accepting that you are not responsible for the challenges that your young person is facing.
It is important to notice and celebrate the small successes. Reflecting on any positive changes for your young person can give you hope and optimism for the future. Acknowledging what you do that makes a difference can lift your mood and renew your commitment to be there for your young person.
Supporting a young person who is struggling with mental health challenges can create worry and a huge feeling of responsibility. Learning about mental health and the impact on young people can give you knowledge, skills and optimism. This knowledge will equip you with the tools to support your young person.
In most cases, early intervention in mental health care has positive outcomes for young people. This news can give family and friends the hope that with support, their young person can come through a difficult time.
Where can I get help?
There are a range of support options available for parents and carers:
- Talk to your local headspace centre, school, council or community health centre to see if they run any parent information sessions or support groups.
- Access support or join an online group chat with other parents, families and friends.
- Access counselling support for your role as a parent or carer supporting a young person experiencing mental health challenges via Head to Health.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 11 Aug 2020