As last week was mental health week I wanted to shine a light on a group that are often forgotten in the battle for better mental health. A group that is very much in the trenches, who are taking the full brunt of each attack and who are often the driving force to continue the fight. This group is of course the loved ones of a person who is suffering from a mental health condition.
We are slowly becoming better at discussing mental illness, we are more accepting of people who are diagnosed with or suffering from symptoms of such illnesses and we are beginning to change how we treat these people. However we often forget about the wider impact that such issues have on the people who take care of and support these people every day.
Consider the mother who has to will her son to continue living every day, or the father who can protect his daughter from everyone, except herself.
Every day the people who love someone who suffers from poor mental health prepare themselves to take on the daily onslaught of negative thoughts, dangerous behaviours and desperate despair. They know they have to be the strong ones, the source of support, the bright side. They do it brilliantly, with complete compassion and often without complaint, driven by the ultimate fear of losing someone they love.
I know this because I loved a person who suffered from poor mental health, every day I would fight on their behalf, battle to gain more help for them, better help, preach to make people understand and I often suffered the pain of watching them slowly spiralling deeper and deeper to the point of no return. It was hard. But someone needed to help them through, they needed to know they were loved, that we cared.
Nobody ever asked me how I was coping.
The fact is that I was not coping, I was ignoring my own needs, my feelings and aspirations. I was ignoring the warning signs that my own mental well being was slipping.
I realised I had to care for myself as much as I cared for my loved one, my life mattered too. I achieved this by being honest with myself and those around me, by asking for help and becoming educated about mental health and how to help people improve it.
So to all the parents, carers, partners, families and friends out there, I salute you. You are the unsung heroes in the war against mental health, you are the true experts, the real champions, the life savers. Take care of yourselves, your mental health is every bit as important as that of those you care for, if you are struggling ask for support you don’t have to do it alone. You matter too.