OPINION: Sometimes, carers need support as well

WHEN a special person enters our life – a partner, a child, a good friend – we promise them and ourselves to love and care for them. This unconditional love can be challenged and challenging.

Caring and loving someone with depression is not easy.

Throughout my life I have been defined by many things: my work, my family, and my politics. Seven years ago I took on another role – carer.

In 2005, my husband John was diagnosed with depression after he attempted to take his life. I had been worried about him for a number of years before this: trying to understand what was happening to him and what I could do to help him.

Despite the circumstances that brought it on, for both of us his diagnosis was a huge relief – the beginning of a journey to recovery.

To support a person with a mental illness the family has to work as a team, but the majority of the load almost always falls on a single member of that team – the primary carer. And that weight can become very difficult to bear.

Loving someone with a mental illness (or any illness) sets you on a quest or multiple quests. The quest for answers; what is happening to the person I love? The quest for information; what treatment is available? The quest for life preservation; how do I keep this precious person safe?

Somewhere down the list is a voice asking how I stay safe and sane on this journey as well.

There are 2.6 million Australians in a caring role. Given that many people supporting someone with depression would not identify themselves as a “carer” in the traditional sense, this number is probably much higher.

It has been estimated that up to 20 per cent of us will experience depression at some stage in our lives, with most of the day-to-day support provided by close family and friends.

While depression is not contagious, it can have a virulent effect – being a carer for someone living with a mental illness immediately puts you into the high-risk category for developing mental health problems yourself.

The reason for that risk is quite simple – you are isolated, distressed and more often than not lacking in the necessary tools and support to cope with the situation you find yourself in.

But it does not have to be that way.

This week, I was privileged to participate in the launch of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health’s report ‘Supporting those who Care: Partners in Depression National Program Outcomes’, as the program’s patron.

Partners in Depression offers support to people loving and caring for someone with depression. The programme was developed based on sound research. Over a series of six sessions participants learn about depression and treatment, they learn how to provide positive support, they learn that they are not alone and most importantly they learn that to be a good carer they must look after themselves first – look after their own physical and mental health.

While we continue to work on building the path to recovery for individuals living with mental illness, we also need to look at the role of the carer and ensure that they have all of the necessary support they need to be an effective support person and to stay healthy.

It is essential for us to continue this cultural shift to an approach that incorporates the well-being of the individual and their family.

Partners in Depression is a step in the right direction.

I just wish every community, family and workplace that needed it had access.

Find out more at partnersindepression苏州美甲学校.au.

Lucy Brogden is the wife of former NSW Opposition Leader John Brogden and the National Patron for Partners in Depression, developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health.

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