“I feel guilty taking time for myself, what helped was remembering that I’m a person too with needs and with limits.” Pierre, Caregiver

Posted Wednesday July 11, 2018

Posted By: Christine Taylor

Category: General

Taking care of a person living with mental illness or experiencing mental health challenges can be both rewarding and stressful.  You may learn new skills and build a stronger relationship with the person – child, youth, adult, or older adult you care for. It is also important to take care of yourself.  Just like the pre-flight instructions, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping another person put on theirs. 

As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.

Stress is a natural part of life, but if not managed well, it can lead to your own health challenges. As a caregiver, it’s easy to forget about yourself and your needs can become a second priority. Self-care is an essential part of your role as a caregiver and describes the actions you take for your own health and wellbeing. 

Why is it so easy to forget about your own self-care? 

Some common reasons are:

  • Your own attitudes and beliefs: I’m being selfish if I sleep in late today.”
  • Being afraid of what you need: I’m feeling over-worked, I need time off but can’t take leave.
  • Being afraid or not knowing where or how to ask for help:I don’t want to bother them, they have their own problems.
  • Wanting to care and show your affections in a selfless way (common with family caregivers): He’s my son, he’s my priority. 

No two situations are the same. Some caregivers provide continuous support for a family member who lives in their home, while others help someone occasionally. Whether you are providing long-term support or short-term care, your role is important and valued. 

When thinking about your own mental health or the mental health of a loved one, it is important to recognize that good mental health is about living well and feeling able to overcome challenges. People who live with mental illness can, and do, thrive just as people without a mental illness may experience poor mental health. 

Taking time to reflect on “where you’re at” can be helpful to your self-care.  This can include:

  • Thinking about what you are feeling. Where are you feeling it in your body?
  • What makes you feel positive or negative?
  • What is going well or could be improved?
  • Do you need extra help? Identify the kind of help you need.

It is normal to have many different feelings. They are not right or wrong – they are your own.  Let yourself feel your emotions and try to not judge them but rather accept them.  Acceptance will let you confront these feelings and what they mean to you, how they affect your actions and even affect the individual you care for. 

The Mental Health Caregiver Guide will help you care for yourself and your own mental health while recognizing your responsibilities as a caregiver. You will find practical tips and positive coping strategies to add to your existing “toolbox”. Use these tools to help support you and the person you care for along this journey.  You can also views this video from the have THAT talk campaign that focuses on your role as a Caregiver.  

Source: Ottawa Public Health; Canadian Mental Health Association; Canadian Public Health Association; Mental Illness Caregivers Association; Military Family Services. Mental Health Caregiver Guide: A guide for caregivers of persons living with mental illness or experiencing mental health challenges.  Ottawa, ON: Ottawa Public Health; 2016. 

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