Who is a carer?

A carer is a person who gives up their own time, often without payment, recognition or thanks to help another person who could not manage without their help. This could be caring for a relative, partner or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or substance misuse problems.

Carers may be expected to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Being a carer includes anything from giving emotional support through to providing a lot of practical support to enable someone to live their life from day to day.Carers are, in fact, normal people who out of a sense of love, duty and compassion, struggle to live their own lives and, at the same time, do their best to help a partner, sibling, son/daughter or friend to achieve something in their lives. They may be the only person who is trusted by the unwell friend or relative.

Caring in the context of mental illness

Understanding your role

Sometimes, it can also be hard to understand why someone needs caring for if they don’t have a physical illness or disorder; it may be harder to understand what they are experiencing.Caring for someone with a mental health problem can be a very different experience from that of other carers. Mental illness can fluctuate and a person with mental health problems can cope independently without a lot of care during ongoing periods of recovery but need a large amount of care at other times or in the case of relapse. In other cases, due to the severity of a mental illness or disorder, people will need continuous care and support for long periods of time. As the symptoms of mental health problems are sometimes unpredictable, caring for a loved one can be during periods of illness can be very worrying.

Carers ask only to be given guidance, information and a little time to understand and learn how to cope with situations that, without them, would be a burden on the community in both time and money. They recognise the role of the professionals in the various disciplines and appreciate the pressure that they work under. Carers ask that their own expertise is also recognised and that people talk to them and keep them informed of what is happening.Mental health services function at a different speed from other health services you may have encountered. The process is always slow, with no quick fixes, x-rays or blood tests. Relationships with nurses and psychiatrists take time to develop. Your loved one is a stranger to them at first and trust has to grow between everyone. Illness does not develop overnight and it won’t get better overnight.

As CAUSE is a peer-led organisation for carers, we understand the issues. CAUSE is here to help you as a family member, partner or friend supporting a loved one with serious mental illness through your carer’s journey. Just remember - you are not alone.

To see how CAUSE can support you, please read more about our services.

Support for you as a carer

Services CAUSE offer

Carer’s assessment and your rights as a carer

As a carer, I have only two statutory rights:

  • I am entitled to a carer’s assessment, even if the person I care for does not wish to engage with services.
  • It is a requirement that I am told that I am entitled to a carer’s assessment.

Please read Supporting Carers from HSC Board

Benefits and entitlements

Knowing what other practical and financial help you can get and are entitled to as a carer is crucial. It can be one of the first steps in effectively managing everyday as a carer.If you are unsure about what you are entitled to or have question about benefits if your circumstances change, get help from a local advice service.Don’t go it alone trying to navigate benefits or entitlements systems or applications if you don’t feel you know enough about them or even uncertain about where to start. There are excellent local advice centres across Northern Ireland there to help you.We have put some useful links below to services and advice guidance.Carers NI Advice Line: Telephone 028 90 43 98 43

Looking after you

The needs of a carer

Once you have realised that what you do for your relative or friend is more than what is expected in a normal relationship, it is probably time for you to start thinking about your own needs. As carers we often say ‘if the person I care for is receiving all the necessary services then I don’t have any specific needs of my own.’ However, it should be possible for you to be able to define your care-giving within certain boundaries, so that you are working in partnership with those services.It is not unreasonable to expect that you should have time for yourself to engage in those activities which you find life enhancing and help maintain your wellbeing.Initially as carers we may find that the support and information we receive from a group or voluntary agency, such as CAUSE, is all that we need or can cope with. As time goes on it is important that we maintain our social networks, families and friends, because caring can be a lonely and isolating experience.

Feeling uncomfortable talking about ourselves or mental illness

Often we feel inhibited about talking to people because of the stigma that is associated with mental illness. Somehow we need to break down these barriers or they will continue to persist. Talking is a therapeutic exercise in itself and maybe we should start by talking to our G.P. who should not have a problem with stigma. By initiating this conversation we are also helping the doctor to recognise us as a carer (there should be a register of carers in the practice - make sure your name is on it) and so alerting him/her to potential extra stress, which may result in our own health suffering as a consequence.All too frequently carers ignore the warning signs indicating deterioration in their own health. We will be unable to continue caring if we become ill ourselves.Like any other group of people, carers want to be able to work and have their own leisure time. All too often these things, which most people take for granted, are denied because of the burden of the caring role. However, it is being increasingly recognised that unless these options remain open to them, carers will become less well able to cope with the demands placed upon them. There are services and agencies which can help carers. A Carers’ Assessment should help to identify where the carer needs support and where to access that support.

Practical advice on looking after you

For more information and practical advice on looking after your own health and well-being as a carer, see more information from us aboutour servicesandbalancing your caring role.

Looking after your own health and well-being as a carer

Do find someone to talk to,to let off steam yourself - another carer, a support group, a professional who can listen to you / help you / advise you on caring for your loved one. As a peer-led organisation here at CAUSE, we should be a first port of call for you in talking to us about your experiences and getting support.
Know what other help you can get: your rights and entitlements.Knowing what is out there to support you is crucial and what help you can access. It can be one of the first steps in effectively managing everyday as a carer. For more information see theCarers UK guide to carers’ rights and benefits.
Take a breakto recharge your batteries, you will need it. Have a carers’ assessment - it’s a legal right - it can help you to identify where help and support may be available to further enhance your ability to care and to help you stay well yourself. It may be difficult to go through this process, for example, admitting how much you actually do, but it should help you to resolve things in a more positive light.Learning how to manage stress;this is one of the biggest problems carers can face in dealing with pressurised situations at home. At CAUSE, we offer a range of services to support you as we understand the stresses involved in caring on many fronts.

We put below some links to practical stress management tips for you:

HSC video - Helping Carers