Thursday, 23 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 12 - Living with, or caring for, someone who has a mental health diagnosis.

Well, would you look at that. We've come to the end of the 12 Days of Mental Health. Yes, it didn't go to plan, and yes it was extremely difficult to do! I've put lots of effort into research for each and every one of the posts that have been done, and I've learnt so much. I've even "met" some wonderful people along the way, and it just reinforces how important this blog really is to me.

Every single post has featured guest blogs from inspirational people who are trying to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. By sharing their stories, they are not only helping many other people who are potentially in the same position as them, but I hope they've also been able to recognise their own achievements and what they've managed to do despite their diagnosis. A diagnosis isn't a life sentence, it's just another little part of who we are - I have depression and anxiety. I also have brown eyes. I can't help either of them, and I'll manage to live with them both!

I'm very fortunate to have this last blog post from my husband, James. We've been together seven years (married three months!) and in that time, it's been difficult at times. I've had days where I haven't moved off the sofa (like right now unfortunately!) and I've left the housework all to him. I've been angry, frustrated, and tearful. My moods have gone up and down and back again before the sun has set. And throughout all of this, for some funny reason, he still seems to sort of like me. There are difficulties for both of us. Sometimes I feel as though he doesn't "understand", and in reality, I know he doesn't fully. My experiences are mine, not his - how can I expect him to understand? And on the flip side, he'll try to push me. Sometimes a kick up the bum is exactly what I need if I'm honest, and I'll accept it. Other days, well, I've told him to pop his motivational speech where the sun doesn't shine!

Either way, I love him. And I love him that tiny bit more for doing this guest blog today. First up, here's some other information about caring or living with someone who has a mental health diagnosis.

What do I do if a loved one gets a diagnosis of a mental illness?

So, firstly, it's going to sound obvious, but LISTEN. With a capital "L". Upon a diagnosis, some people may feel relieved. It might give them comfort to know that what they are experiencing isn't "wrong" or an indication of them "going mad." For other people though, a diagnosis can be extremely distressing and upsetting. It could indicate a time of great change in the form of a new treatment plan or medication, for example. Some people will even deny their diagnosis, which isn't uncommon, and is of course understandable. The best thing you can do is be patient, and be a listening ear where and when they need it. Don't force the topic on them.

I want to find out more about this diagnosis. What can I do?

We all know knowledge is power, so upon a diagnosis, look at further information. There are so many useful resources online (some are shared below) such as Mind, NHS Choices and Patient UK as more general websites. You'll also find lots of websites for individual diagnoses. Look out for leaflets as well in doctor's surgeries, or ask the mental health your loved one is working with.

Understanding symptoms can help you identify any changing behaviours, and can also help you understand the effects of medication.

Can I provide practical support? 

Yes, but be thoughtful. You might consider tidying the house as an act of kindness for someone with depression, but what about doing it with them? It's easy to go to the shops on behalf of someone with anxiety, but why don't you suggest doing the route in very small parts with them instead? I'm not suggesting you put people out of their comfort zone  unnecessarily, but independence is crucial to those living with a mental illness.

What else can I do? 

I think this bit is best left to my wonderful husband, James. I think he's pretty much nailed it after living with me for six years!

Living with someone who has Depression

Living with someone who has depression (or with any other mental illness) can be difficult. It can leave you feeling frustrated, guilty, angry or helpless, but I hope to share a few tips here to help your friend or relative, and also how to look after yourself.

These are things I've learned along the way, they may work for you they may not, but I hope they help!

1. Understanding

Understanding can be looked at in two ways. Firstly, just being understanding if the person you live with just doesn't want to do something. Sometimes it may be difficult for them to want to go out and meet with people, go to work or even sometimes just go to the shops. No one will be disappointed if you don't go to the pub that night, and just the same as if you had a cold - sometimes staying in with a blanket, a hot cup of tea and a good movie really does the trick! Understanding the need of when to say 'no' sometimes, and supporting your friend or family member when they make that decision is a big part of helping them through whatever they're feeling so they'll really appreciate it if you can look at a situation from their shoes.

Secondly, try and take steps to understand a little bit about what that person is going through. These things aren't taught in schools, so try and find out a little bit about the illness your loved one is facing. There's a wealth of information available online and whilst you may not be feeling the symptoms yourself, it becomes a lot easier to empathise with someone once once you have an idea of what's going on in their world. You will also be able to appreciate that this isn't a problem which will necessarily go away overnight, meaning you can have realistic expectations of the recovery process.

2. Encouragement

This comes with practice, it's certainly not an overnight thing! Sometimes, particularly if a person has been off work for a period of time for example, it can be hard to get back into gear and all too easy to fall into the 'sofa trap'. Sometimes what a person needs is a little encouragement to get out and about again and boost their confidence, perhaps a walk around a place you really like, or just a coffee somewhere. Little things really make a difference, and it's always a great feeling when your loved one says 'thanks for taking me out today, I didn't think I'd enjoy myself, but I did'.

As I said before this will be different for every person, but if you understand a little bit about the illness you're facing - you gradually start to identify times when it's best to be supportive and when it's best to be encouraging. There may be times it doesn't quite work out, but trust me when I say your relative or friend will appreciate the gesture.

Encouragement can also take the form of going along to Doctor's appointments as a second pair of ears and some moral support!

3. Don't Take Things Personally

Sometimes, living with someone who has Depression means if they're having a bad day you might be the only person they have to vent to and they may say things they don't mean. Remember, it isn't your fault, and it isn't theirs either! Listening compassionately and offering suggestions will go a long way.

You will learn over time when it's the illness talking.

4. Look After Yourself

Make sure you take time out for yourself. This tip could probably apply to a lot of people in a lot of situations, but it's true! It's good to remember that you need to take care of your own mental and physical health as well so it's important to continue with your hobbies, going to the gym or meeting up with friends, whatever it may be. This gives you time to process your own thoughts and emotions, and take stock of the wider world. Again, it's a learning experience because everyone's different.

Similarly, this can also help your partner. Say for example you really love movies, going to the cinema can be a great way for you both to get out of the house without too much pressure. Like Photography? Maybe a walk by a river or at the beach with some chips for an hour is just the ticket! Now what you're doing is continuing your normal life whilst also encouraging your partner to stop ruminating on their illness, even if just for an hour.

Finally, it's worth really stressing that no single approach will work for anyone but hopefully the tips I've learnt along the way will help.

If you'd like to follow my wonderful husband, just click here.

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There's not much else I can/want/need to say other than...