Ramsay Health Care

Where to start?

Developing a practical, positive attitude is always a good place to start. This involves coming to terms with the fact that someone you care for has a mental illness and that this is likely to have a serious emotional impact on you as well as them.

You may be feeling anger at this happening in your family, confusion or a sense of loss and grief at how the person has been changed by their illness. It’s important to acknowledge and talk about these feelings.

It is also important to develop a sense of balance between:

  • Acknowledging the effects of the illness on your loved one and hopes for their recovery.

  • Wanting to do things to help your loved one and encouraging them to be independent.

  • Showing you care and not being over-involved.

  • Giving your loved one your time and having time for yourself and other family members.

  • Encouraging your loved one to do things and not being unrealistic and demanding.

Some tips to ease any distress you and/or family members may be feeling:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask our staff questions about your loved one’s mental illness, treatment and our services.

  • Accept that symptoms may come and go as well as vary in severity, so your levels of support will most likely vary as well.

  • Determine the level of care that you can realistically provide and ask our staff if you need referral to external support agencies to ensure continuity of care for your loved one once they go home.

  • Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.

  • Consider the impact of mental illness on your loved one’s ability to make decisions about their ongoing medical care and finances. Seek advice and discuss the options available with your loved one and family members.

It is important to prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about the illness and its treatment. However, you cannot make your loved one behave in a certain way (ie taking their medication, eating properly or giving up alcohol) or solve all their problems.

Consider what you can reasonably do to support your loved one. Discuss this with other family members and the health professionals involved in your loved one’s care. It is important to remember that there is a team of people looking after your loved one and you can’t be totally responsible for their welfare and wellbeing.

How to become a primary carer

Firstly you need to ask your loved one to nominate you as their primary carer and to be given full disclosure of any personal information such as their treatment plan and progress. This will then be documented in their clinical notes and permits nursing and other staff to answer any questions you may have relating to their care. Other steps to becoming a carer include:

  • Asking your loved one if you can be involved in their care-planning and discharge preparation.

  • Organising a time to meet with your loved one and their doctor or nurse.

  • Asking for a program timetable so you become familiar with the routine in the unit.

  • Writing down the patient phone number of the specialist unit where they will be staying.

  • Writing down the visiting hours of the specialist unit so you know when you can visit them.

  • Attending a carer support group to learn more about mental illness.

  • Conducting a web search for information on your loved one’s mental illness.

  • Contacting carer organisations and asking them to send you information (see the Resources at the back of this Guide).

  • Continuing to look after your own mental and physical health.

Visiting the hospital and speaking with nursing staff can help you to become familiar with the hospital’s day-to-day routines and procedures. This will help you to understand where you ‘fit’ in this new situation and how you can continue to support your loved one.

There is a lot of scope for spending time together, if this is what you both wish to do. Hospital routines and daily programs are clearly defined and ‘free time’ can be spent in various ways such as having lunch or dinner together. Going out together can also increase a sense of ‘normality’ and offer the opportunity for communication more readily than may be the case in the hospital environment. However, before arranging to go out you will need to check with the nursing staff. If you have any doubt about what is appropriate, staff members will be happy to help you.

First-time carers

The first hospital stay can be a time of mixed emotions for carers. Some of these may include:

  • Sadness that your loved one is ‘so unwell’ that they need to be admitted to hospital.

  • Guilt that you have not been able to meet their needs at home—perhaps feeling that you have failed them.

  • Relief that somebody is going to share the burden of care—but at the same time guilt about feeling that care is a burden.

  • Tiredness and perhaps even exhaustion, as your emotional and physical resources may be seriously depleted.

What you will learn from the hospital stay

Some positive things you may derive from your loved one’s hospital stay could be:

  • Knowing that your loved one will receive expert professional care on a full-time basis and that their needs will be recognised and met promptly.

  • Being comfortable in the knowledge that the person you care for is in a safe environment.

  • Having an increased understanding about the illness affecting your loved one and perhaps a more accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Letting go and allowing others to respond to the needs of your loved one can offer a tremendous sense of relief. It can also allow you to meet some of the other needs in your life that may have been neglected due to the intense focus on your loved one.

During this time allow yourself the opportunity to replenish some of your own resources. If you have become run down during the lead up to admission to the specialist unit, this can be a good time to focus on regaining your strength to resume care if and when necessary.

Often carers benefit from seeing that they are not alone and therefore not feeling so isolated. A hospital setting can reinforce the knowledge that there are many others in a similar situation.

Taking care of yourself

Time for yourself may include taking breaks and recognising your limits. No-one can be a carer every minute of every day. Make sure you go out and continue doing activities you enjoy.

Explore if there is a relative or friend who would be willing to share the role of carer. For a longer break, consider arranging respite care by contacting the Commonwealth Carer Respite Centre for information and advice (see Resources at the back of this guide).

Maintaining good health is the best way to withstand stress. This may include:

  • Taking regular exercise: walking, gardening, dancing, yoga or anything that gives you a gentle workout.

  • Listening to pleasant music, meditating or reading an enjoyable book are a few ways of relaxing.

  • Eating regular well-balanced meals will help maintain your energy levels and keep you physically and mentally well.

  • Having a chat about what you are experiencing with a friend or someone else who is non-judgmental. Sharing your experience can give you comfort, strength and reduce feelings of isolation.

In addition to taking care of yourself you may also consider the following:

  • Making a plan of action in case of an emergency.

  • Making a written agreement with your loved one.

  • Having a list of important phone numbers (GP, psychiatrist, case manager, hospital, crisis team etc) on hand.

  • Having an up-to-date list of medications on hand.

  • Finding a friend or family member who is able to step in if you are suddenly unable to care for your loved one.