The many roles of a mental health carer

Matthew MckenzieThank you for visiting my blog on carers who care for those suffering mental health problems. I have just come from a carers group in Lewisham, which is run by South London and Maudsley carer support officers and a carers advocate from Carers Lewisham. I felt the group turned out very well for carers as also for myself, even if I did not learnt as much as I could, or felt I could not release any of the emotional turmoil as much as I had noticed other carers going through then that is ok, because I do not feel too alone when I walk the path with other carers facing a similar journey.

 

On this blog I want to talk about the changing role of a carer. The thing is if you are caring by yourself or in a family, you are still a carer, but the word carer runs a lot deeper than it seems. I am sure I have mentioned this many times, but carers are not usually trained to care when their loved one becomes unwell, this is more the case for carers who care for those suffering difficult but mysterious mental health crisis. I suppose eventually we know that a carer will pick up a few things alone the way in their journey of caring.

I will speak for you

However the road of a carers journey can be long with many winding paths and difficult uphill battles. Now I have been caring for many years and when I look back at my roles, I have begun to realise that I not just a carer. At times I have noticed that I would have to advocate on my loved ones behalf. Why is this?

 

Well as you might have guessed that if you are caring for someone who has difficultly with mental capacity, you will find that you may have to take that step forward to contact services on their behalf, which can cause relationship difficulties, because as a carer, you are drifting into the patients rights, but at the same time you as a carer cannot stand to see your loved ones life falling apart.

You as a carer may find yourself speaking up for your loved one on perhaps a ward round, you may end up ringing around to get your caree financial support, you as a carer may end up having to deal with correspondence, but in the long run you as a carer will speak to your loved one on what you feel they may need to get their life on track. Of course whether your loved one listens to you is another thing, but you are advocating on their behalf, unless they have an independent mental health advocate who advocates for them, which can be a good thing, but its not uncommon for even the carer to step in and update the IMHA (Independent Mental Health Advocate) on their loved ones situation.

So ok, we have one of the roles a carer will probably have to carry out or learn on their caring journey, but what are the other roles?

A healing hand

When a carer who is looking after someone suffering mental health difficulties, its only a matter of time before a carer deals with medication, its only a matter of time before the carer looks around for side effects, its only a matter of time before a carer tends to their loved one’s physical health problems. I may have already mentioned this in another of my blog posts, but those suffering schizophrenia unfortunately have a shorter life span than those who do not suffering such devastating mental health problems. The question is why? Could it be that those suffering such a condition are not proactive in seeking help when physical symptoms arise due to perhaps bad life choices? Maybe it could be mental health stigma or perhaps some health professionals may not take the patient seriously.

 

So we then have a carer whose role will change to a nurse and I do not mean a professional trained nurse, what I mean is that the carer will try and tend towards the carer’s physical health problems. The carer will also try to alert the GP or a health professional when critical symptoms arise. The carer will also check if medication is being taken on time and will look for side affects. Its not like I want carers out there to do all what I have mentioned, but I do realize that many mental health carers go through such roles almost on a daily occurrence.

The words we use can heal

So now we have covered two roles where the carer could shift into, but there are more, I would at least like to cover 3 more roles. What could these roles be? especially ones concerning those who look after someone suffering mental health difficulties?

 

The next role is a difficult one which many carers including myself struggle through. This role is when a carer ends up having to be a counsellor to who they care for. Now those looking after someone with physical aliments would have to try some counselling to someone who feels the world is collapsing around them, perhaps because the caree is not as independent at that particular time. However consider what a carer needs to do if they are caring for someone suffering mental health difficulties.

 

It is fairly well known that counselling can work benefits for those suffering anxiety, phobias, compulsive disorders, depression and other mental health disorders, but what happens if the service user cannot access a counsellor? We have to remember that the carer may be living with their loved one and there will be times when their loved one will reach out for reassurance.

The carer will have to listen to their loved one, sometimes the carer will have to second guess what their loved one is feeling. The carer will also have to be very careful what they say and try to see what words or suggestions could help their loved one make it through the day.

 

This role is without a doubt extremely tough and requires not only some training, but knowing the person you care for, since we all have different personalities, we are all different characters. The mind is a mysterious and wonderful thing, but it has many complexities where so much is unexplored, psychiatrists take years to train, so can you imagine the worry or fear when carers need to explore this role?

To serve and protect

You might frown at this next role, but fortunately it might not be too often a mental health carer needs to carry out the next role, but this role is where the carer becomes a safety guard. Now its not uncommon to hear the word “vulnerable” when you define someone suffering mental health problems. As a carer, your loved ones state of mind may have changed to where they may lack capacity internally, but unfortunately the world externally has not changed, your loved one is still under the same difficult situations where those not suffering mental ill health are exposed to.

 

Are you worried about those seeking to exploit your loved ones finances? Then yes you will take on the safety guard role.

Are you worried about fire hazards or if your loved one falls? Then think about the safety guard role.

How about abusive relationships where it might be your son or daughter loosing their mind due to abuse or neglect? As a carer you will take on that role to try protect them.

A Helping Hand

For the last role, it might turn out to be the most common. Unfortunately with this role, it can be used because of carer stigma. The thing is you see, not everyone likes to be labelled, some people feel they are only caring for someone because they are carrying out their duty as a family member. Some feel they do not need that special label because they are doing only what is required of them. Others out there feel the carer label is difficult to get rid of, so this next role is when a carer becomes……a helper.

 

With this role a helper does all the roles mentioned above and more, a helper aides, assists and carries out support when their loved one needs it. A helper may stand back quietly carrying out care without trying to disrupt their loved ones routine. You may tend to find helper roles in large families or in old aged carers who would have supported their loved ones anyway.

The many roles of a carers journey

No matter what role a carers definition may be, those roles usually fall under some form of caring. If you are caring for someone, it might be wise to think to yourself about these roles and ponder what information, course or help would be required for you to carry out such roles.

 

I do not wish it for carers to over burden themselves with switching from role to role, nor should carers smother their loved ones, because it is not right or fair for someone to sacrifice and care for so long, but the longer someone does provide care, then the more roles a carer will pick up along the way. It is important that carers like ourselves are more than just a label, we are ever changing and our journey requires many skills.

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