A Carer’s Perspective on Mental Health

Mental health: there’s been a lot talk, from celebs sharing their battle with depression to an endless selection of self-care books available on Amazon.

The message of mental wellbeing is widespread, and it seems that almost everyone has a story to share. But, the most common ones we come across are generally first-hand accounts.

With stats showing that 72% of family members, friends or loved ones are acting as carers for those with mental health problems in the UK has suffered mental ill health as a result, the question arises: what about those who struggle supporting someone with mental health issues – where’s the discussion on this?

Lauren* is just one of many who feel unable to speak up about their second-hand experience with mental health.

“Psychotic episode, schizophrenia, bipolar–these were just some of the diagnoses she was receiving, but I didn’t know how I could be there for her and be strong for myself,” explained Lauren.

As a carer for a family member, Lauren had to balance her priorities, being her own person with taking care of someone at the same time.

“It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through”, she says. “I always felt an unconscious conflict between my compassion for her health and the guilt of it all coming down really hard on me.”

A student at the time, Lauren explained how looking after a loved-one really took a toll on her studies and social life, which left her feeling anxious.

“I felt too guilty to find help for my own struggles,” Lauren recalls. “I often thought that my own problems seemed minor and selfish in comparison. She needed me, and I wanted to be there for her, but I felt stuck battling between my own mental wellbeing and being a support system.”

The Carers UK annual survey in 2015 revealed that out of 5,000 carers across the UK, 84% of carers feel more stressed, 78% feel more anxious and 55% reported that they suffered from depression because of their caring role.

“Every day was a learning curve for me as I started recognising the small indications of the emotional support she needed,” Lauren added.

She explains that it wasn’t just the psychological effects that became a struggle, but it was also physical barriers that became difficult.

“I think some people see mental illness as an invisible health problem, but it does take effect on someone’s physical state–there were times she didn’t want to get out of bed and I had to stay nearby to support her daily needs,” Lauren said. “I needed to make sure she ate, that she showered, and I really didn’t mind if it meant it helped–but I did forget what it was like to live my own life.

“It was a commitment and it takes a strong person to see a loved one going through a tough time and while I would never point fingers for the way it all happened – I just wish at the time that I hadn’t neglected my own emotional needs,” Lauren added.

Lauren wants others to know that being there for someone is difficult and it’s OK to admit it: “I know from this experience, I have learnt that it’s perfectly fine to feel the way I did.”

If you are struggling with caring for a friend or family member with any disability, Mind UK have a support network specifically designed to support carers’ mental health and Samaritans are always available to talk.

Editor’s Note: Lauren’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Fix my Brain: A Guide to Mental Health Services at KU

University can be a stressful time for anyone, whether you’re a first year student or you’re getting your PhD. If you find yourself anxious, depressed or just plain stressed during your time at Kingston, know that you’re not alone—and there are plenty of support services to keep you on track.

Want to get help, but not sure where to turn? Here’s a comprehensive list of “what to do” when you find your mental health is suffering at university.

  • Contact Your GP

Your general practitioner is your first point-of-call when it comes to mental health services. Whether you’ve seen them your whole life, or you’re visiting them for the first time, they’ll be able to give the most inclusive advice about your specific mental state. They can also provide a prescription for medication that might help, as well as refer you to counselling services in the Kingston and Surbiton area. If you’re an on-campus student, it’s as simple as ringing the Penrhyn Road Fairhill Clinic and requesting an appointment.

  • Visit a Student Wellbeing Drop-In Clinic

If you can’t (or don’t want to) get an appointment with your GP, visiting the drop-in clinic is your next best option. These clinics run at both the Penrhyn Road campus (Health Centre) and Kingston Hill (Yorkon Building) throughout the week, and are roughly 15 minutes long—similar to a GP visit. These clinics are confidential and are a good choice if you’re not sure what type of support you need. The health adviser at the clinic will be able to offer advice about seeking medication, on-campus support or even counselling.

  • Call for a Stress Management Appointment

These unique appointments are offered at both the Penrhyn Road and Kingston Hill campuses and are arranged either by calling 0208 417 2172, or visiting a wellbeing drop-in clinic. Kingston University’s website claims these sessions help with “time management skills, assertiveness levels, new study techniques, anger management techniques and ways to relax.” This, partnered with visits to Kingston’s CASE program, are a great way to get a handle on your studies-related stresses.

  • Speak to Samaritans

Whether you’re in a crisis or just need someone to talk to, don’t be afraid to call the Samaritans at 116 123. This number is manned 24/7, and all calls are fully confidential. If you would prefer, you can also email them at jo@samaritans.org. It can be very therapeutic to tell someone else about what’s on your mind, and Samaritans is equipped to handle a range of mental health issues. Whether you’re depressed, dealing with a traumatic situation, or just terrified of your exam next week, Samaritans is there to listen.

There are people who want and are ready to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.