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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ray

Whose Load Are You Carrying?

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Mental illness can be extremely difficult, painful and traumatic for family members, friends and acquaintances.

Mental illness often has a ripple effect on families and friends creating tension, uncertainty and stress. It is normal to feel a whole range of emotions such as guilt, fear, anger and sadness. No one is to blame when a person is affected by mental illness.

Mental illness is complex and different for every individual. The focus, rightly so, is on the person experiencing the issues but the road to recovery can be very long and involve much difficulty and set back. There is also a national issue with the provision of mental health services with more people needing to access them than can be seen, with long waiting lists for treatment and a lack of funding to make improvements and offer a more robust system of help.

The Priory Group quote a Swedish study that showed that half of family members claimed to have developed psychological or social problems (such as sleep problems and depression) of their own, to such an extent that they also need help and support.

As a family member, it is natural to want to help, to find a solution and to solve the problem.

You may spend hours researching mental illness, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar – anything to help you understand what your loved one is going through.

You probably look for answers in all kinds of different therapies . . . ‘Try this - it worked for my friend's niece’

You might look at diet and what the best foods are to beat depression, what supplements can you take. You read books, join Facebook groups and forums trying to find the solution

You become a mini expert in putting together a plan of action offering helpful suggestions and making a list of all the things that could be helpful – cold showers, deep breathing, mindfulness, going for a walk, distraction techniques like doing jigsaws or anything that takes the brain somewhere else.

You might say things like “I know you don’t feel like it but just do the things on the list and you might start to feel better”

It’s worrying, exhausting and all-consuming.

You’re always available to speak, to chat, to reassure, to reason. You dare not be available – what if something terrible happens and you missed a phone call that could have stopped it from happening?

But you start to dread a text message coming through, or a phone call at an unusual time of the day. Unexpected calls or just the sound of the phone ringing grip your insides and start feelings of panic and thoughts of ‘what’s wrong’ or ‘what’s happened’

You feel guilty for having a good day, not wanting to mention the lovely things that you are enjoying.

Your own troubles, worries and concerns are put to one side as they’re ‘nothing compared to what your loved one is going through’

All of the above have been my experience of supporting a family member with mental illness. I was so desperate to solve the problem but I couldn’t . . . and you can’t.

The illness is not yours and the only person who can solve it is the person suffering with it. Of course, being supported, listened to, cared for and treated medically all have a role to play but it is the person suffering who makes the change.

And then I had a light bulb moment. This wasn’t my illness, my journey or my recovery and I couldn’t control the situation. So, I stopped trying to solve the problem. I released myself from that responsibility. I had to live my life and look after my own family and not feel guilty for all the things I enjoy. I was still there to listen and support and never stopped caring, but I stopped trying to direct the recovery.

Mental health Charity ‘Mind’ have the following tips for helping someone else and looking after yourself;

  • Show your support. Don’t be afraid to ask how they are

  • Ask how you can help. Not about having solutions but practical support like attending a GP appointment or doing an exercise class together

  • Be open minded. Try to be non-judgemental and listen

  • Don’t just talk about mental health. The person is not the illness.

  • Show trust and respect

Looking after your own wellbeing is very important so that you have the energy and time you need to be able to help

  • Set boundaries and be clear

  • Share your caring role with others if you can. It’s easier to support someone if you’re not doing it alone

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.

  • If you’re finding the situation affects your mental health, seek help.

  • Find time for yourself to relax and de-stress

  • Find ways to distract yourself and concentrate on something else.

  • Get out in the fresh air, exercise, listen to music

  • Take a break when you need it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone or it’s taking up a lot of time or energy, taking some time for yourself can help you feel refreshed.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help

  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling

  • Set boundaries and be realistic about what you can do. Your support is really valuable, but it's up to your loved one to seek support for themselves. Remember that small simple things can help and that just being there for them is probably helping too

Researching support groups for people affected by the mental illness of others I came across Rethink Mental Illness.

There are 140 groups running across England and their website quotes Polly, saying ‘It is great to be part of a group of people who understand what it is like to have a relative with mental health problems’

The website is and you can enter your postcode to find a local group. The nearest to Norfolk is listed as Cambridge and Peterborough with a telephone support line.

Rethink Mental Illness also offer Mental Health Training to help understand mental health and mental illness. This is an online course for 3 ½ hours


Rethink Mental Illness

Ben Nevis Stomp

On Saturday 9th July, I set off with my sister Louisa and 5 other intrepid explorers, to walk Ben Nevis. We all have a story to tell and were walking to raise awareness of mental illness. I've never attempted to walk a mountain before and hadn't anticipated that we would actually be climbing with every step or that we would have to climb over boulders and loose stones! It was tough going but the camaraderie amongst us kept us moving, along with stops for snacks.

We reached the top in around 4 hours and having been blessed with perfect conditions, spent a while relaxing at the summit with our sandwiches, enjoying the view.

It was a privilege to walk and talk with people that I hadn't previously known and our sense of achievement was immense. We raised over £3,000 which will be used to support treatment for mental illness through the use of complementary therapies.

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