Welcome to another blog post from mental health carer Matthew McKenzie. This time I thought I would blog about something most carers find useful, but is actually quite hard to provide. Before I continue, I would just like to mention that a carer is someone who cares for a person suffering ill health, but an important point is that carers are unpaid. Carers tend to fall on difficult times due to the stress placed on health services, cuts on other services, plus misunderstandings by those who have not encountered carers.
Being a mental health carer can be difficult because those suffering mental ill health may come into conflict regarding friends, families or those desperately trying to help them. So mental health carers have a tough time sustaining relationships with their loved one until capacity has been regained and even then things are not as they were before.
As you may have noticed, this blogsite heavily tries to center itself on psychology, I find it odd that people feel carers do not suffer mental health while desperately fighting for their loved ones who suffer chronic mental health. There seems to be an imbalance of mental health support for mental health carers, although I do admit service users do need the mental health support because of their condition, but that cannot be used as an excuse all the time, family therapy, carers telling their stories and constant referrals should not be the only tools within the realm of psychiatry as I will soon point out later on in this blog.
As a mental health carer, one of the resources I have found useful for myself on the road to recovery are carer support groups. I have been attending groups in order to relate and connect with other mental health carers. Funnily enough, support groups at first sight do seem simple too set up, but when you delve more closely into what carer groups are trying to achieve, the concept becomes very difficult because the group facilitator needs to home in on the mental health of carers struggling.
I thought in this blog, I shall try and point out why it is very hard to escape psychotherapy in a carer support group setting. The first and most important point is that a carer group allows carers the space to share their feelings (if they wish to), Carers need to help develop their skills in not only supporting their loved ones, but other carers as well, especially mental health carers who are new to the caring role. It is difficult to share your story and have compassion to others in that group unless carers are trained. The group facilitator will have to pick up signs when a carer can share their story and also how it can heal the carer or get them to come to terms with things. Still, not all carers want to share their difficult feelings and they should not be forced to.
A good carer group will have carers almost imitate one another in order to develop and enhance their caring role, but this must come from the group facilitator. A carer group should have aims where a carer feels they are gaining something from such a group, this is not always easy to achieve as some groups can often repeat the same things as they did two months ago. If a mental health carer group can provide a carer insight into their troubles then the group is moving forwards.
One of the most common themes of a Carer group is to pass on information to those who attend, this can be new information about mental health services, events, welfare and personalisation, events and so on, but it is critical that carers learn from one another, even if the mental health carer mentions something horrific. Carer confidentiality is vital, but if a carer wants to pass on information about their journey as a carer, this is critical for other carers absorb such information and relate to it in their own way.
As in psychology and psychiatry, we are challenged to ask questions of ourselves. What does it mean to suddenly become a mental health carer? how does it affect us? where will our role lead us? will we be the same person? These questions and much more will need to faced as a carer group can allow a greater sense of self-awareness. A mental health carer is more than just a label and probably under researched as carers face their own identity issues. A good carer group will enhance a greater sense of purpose for someone attending the carer group.
If a carer decides to move on from their role, what are the risks? How will the carer be supported? How will their loved ones be supported. Each time I entered a mental health carer support group, I hear difficult stories from other carers and wonder how much pressure I could take from my role. I can only hope a good carer group can help carers in their decisions in life.
A good carer support group will help carers support each other, although not all carers want to relate or bond, but no carer should have to face a difficult journey alone. There should be a sense of altruism among carers in the group as the facilitator seeks to develop the group where carers empower each other with their life experience.
Time and time again, carers should be allowed the space to release pent up emotions, its not to say sadness, guilt, anger or regret will come to the surface, but mental health carers often can hide their feelings and emotions, because they wish to remain strong for their loved ones. There will be times when constant repression of emotions can be damaging, so it can be helpful a carer get the chance to combat difficult feelings.
As mentioned before, there often will be times when a new carer has joined the support group. A good carer group will allow newer members to find their voice and provide a feeling of hope that a carers journey does not have to be traveled alone. Whatever the situation, there is always hope that things will improve or that support will be there in some form.
Although difficult, a good carer support group has to also be a safe environment, free of noise and distractions. There will be times when a carer needs to go into an isolated spot away from the group in order to have 1 to 1 support. This is mainly because the carer finds the situation too distressing or they need specific, but confidential advice.
Whatever the age, race, class or gender, a carer group should allow a sense of shared identity. No one is better than anyone else and we are all mental health carers. No mental health carer should interrupt, take over or challenge other carers and this is not as easy as it seems because the unfortunately carers may need to learn this from the group and especially from the facilitator.
If you find this blog tough to read, I will now bullet point the important things a carer support group should be.
- A shared sense of identity for mental health carers.
- Learning from one another.
- A space to share difficult emotional problems.
- A sense of hope in the journey of a mental health carer.
- Where carers can be tooled up with skills to cope with their role.
- A place to pick up support advice, event info and resources.
- Safe supportive environment.
- The group has aims and objectives.
- The carer group shares a sense of compassion for others.
- Welcoming for new carers.
- A place for recovery as carers also suffer mental health e.g. stress, guilt, anger and more.
- Confidential and adaptable to a carers needs e.g. 1 to 1 support.
- Sharing of carers experiences in their role.
To make things even clearer, I will now bullet point what a carer group should try to avoid
- A chatting group, although there will be times when carers can feel more social.
- No carer should dominate the group and must be aware of other carers.
- The facilitator should facilitate and avoid dominating the group.
- Noisy environment which is full of distractions.
- Same things being discussed too often with no aims or objectives.
- A referral service e.g. pass the buck.
- A group that is hostile to new members or non-welcoming.
- Problems where carers cannot find their identity.
Most of the times carers support groups tend to work out, but its important to note that a carers support group should include some aspects of psychotherapy, since mental health carers can often experience mental distress.
Good luck in your caring journey