People spoke about what it was like to care for someone who was experiencing severe mental health problems: how the work of caring for someone was sometimes hard and unending, but also how hard it could be seeing someone they cared for in distress (see also ‘Suicide and self harm‘).
Whilst some people had only cared for their family member in times of crisis, others constantly cared for someone who was vulnerable or distressed and being a carer meant different things to different people.
Sheila’s whole life was tied into what her husband wanted to do. Every day was unpredictable as her husband’s health varied. She just wanted him to enjoy a normal life.
Steve said he didn’t really consider himself a carer, more a husband.
Alka managed her husband’s moods through imposing routines and noticed when he started to become unwell. She said that the dynamic of her and her husband’s relationship had changed completely because of his illness.
Some people, like David Y and Tristan, had to care for a new born or very young child, on top of caring for someone who was unwell. Having a loved one in hospital could take some of the strain off. But visiting could also add to the strain, especially if the hospital was far away. When Steve’s wife had postnatal depression and was in hospital, he had to juggle looking after two small children, work and finding time to visit his wife in hospital.
People often spoke about the effect of caring on their own emotional and physical well-being, as well as their financial situation. For example David Y had to give up work and had no income. People said that although they wanted to do it, caring for someone could be difficult and upsetting in practice.
People who suffered with mental illness also recognised the pressure their illness put on their families. Jenny’s husband had health problems, and she worried that the stress of dealing with her mental health had hurt him. Jane worried about the emotional difficulties her children might experience due to her mental health difficulties.
Annie and Lorraine had days when they couldn’t face dealing with their mum’s depression and could get angry with her.
Nevertheless, carers do find ways of coping. Tristan struggled to remember the details of what his wife was like when she was delusional and says ‘I think I’ve probably blocked it out’.
Some talked about the help they got from other family members, although others talked about difficult family relations adding stress. At the beginning of their relationship, Steve knew very little about mental health and depended on his wife’s parents to guide him as to what to do. However, Alka found it hard when her husband’s family didn’t understand her way of managing her husband’s illness. Alka felt early on that her husband needed routine, although his family said she was trying to keep them away from him.
Steve says his grown-up children have been a big help and his son wants to study clinical psychology. They grew up with their mother’s depression but are understanding.
A few people mentioned some positive aspects to being a carer, such as the friends they’d made and the support they’d received from friends and family and from organisations. Beattie met her husband through a mental health support group. He has had schizophrenia and they look after each other. Sheila said she had made a lot of friends as a result of supporting her husband through his mental illness.