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

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 on-going periods of recovery but need a large amount of support 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 during periods of illness can be very worrying. 

Generally 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 incur substantial costs to statutory services and communities 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.