Caring for someone with a disability can be a challenge for both carer and the person being cared for.
By Gary Buswell
Studies have shown that over half of carers have experienced poor mental health while around a third of people with a physical disability report having mental health issues. As mental wellbeing affects physical health – with depression and anxiety, for example, linked to increased risk of some physical illnesses – carers need to look after their mental health in order to discharge their care responsibilities to the best of their ability. They also need to consider the mental health of those they care for to prevent further deterioration of physical health, which can make care duties more difficult.
How carers can look after their mental health
Lack of time can make it challenging for full time carers to properly focus on their own mental health, but here are a few simple tips:
Socialising and meeting friends
Caring for someone can be intense and it’s easy to end up feeling isolated. According to figures produced by Carers UK, half of carers say they have lost touch with friends. Family and friends are great for sharing problems with and taking your mind off worries, so regular meetups for a coffee or a trip out somewhere can be a much-needed tonic.
Joining online forums and support groups
Sometimes it’s good to talk with others who are in a similar situation to you. Support groups and online communities offer the chance to share issues, exchange tips and even make new friends. Carers UK has an online forum and the Carers Trust can help find local support services.
Getting adequate sleep is crucial for good physical and mental health. Carers often have trouble sleeping due to stress and providing care at unsociable hours. Aim to get a minimum of six to seven hours of sleep per night. Having a bath, a herbal tea (instead of caffeine) and a 20-minute relax before bedtime will help you get a good night’s sleep.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that physical activity improves mental wellbeing and helps reduce issues such as depression. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week to stay healthy. This doesn’t have to be strenuous, it can be simple activities like walking or light gym
exercises. The NHS has ideas on how to keep fit for free on its website.
Good nutrition is needed to keep the brain functioning properly and boost both mood and mental health. Links have been found between poor diet and poor mental health, so keeping a balanced diet is important. The NHS Eatwell Guide found on: www.nhs.uk can help you to plan a healthy diet.
See more about diet and mental health at: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Pursuing hobbies and interests
One of the best ways of improving mental wellbeing is spending time doing things we enjoy – from going to the cinema to participating in a sports or arts activities. Hobbies can help to divert people from stress and be another social outlet if we so choose. Creative hobbies can be highly satisfying and
Everyone needs a break sometimes, whether it’s just a day here and there or a longer holiday. For carers with full time responsibilities, it can be difficult to get away and recharge the batteries. If you feel like you need a break and don’t have family or friends who can help relieve you of care duties, you
can request a Carer’s Assessment from social services. They may be able to provide you with respite care.
If things start to feel overwhelming it’s advisable to seek professional help as soon as possible. GPs can offer support or referrals regarding mental health concerns and you can also receive free counseling through the NHS or local voluntary organisations and so on.
Keeping the mind active
Having a disability can lead to boredom which can affect mental health. Finding ways to keep the mind working not only reduces boredom but also prevents it from declining over time. Good ways of
occupying the mind are reading, writing a diary, taking up arts and crafts, learning (languages, musical instruments or other skills) and playing games or puzzles.
Sadly it isn’t unusual for disabled people to feel loneliness or isolation that can be attributed to their disability. Socialising, making new friends and joining groups can prevent loneliness and depression. Groups could be related to a particular interest or perhaps disability-related to meet those in a similar situation. If leaving the house is difficult, there are online groups such as Scope’s online community.
This can be challenging but is far from impossible. Remaining as mobile as possible will help retain independence and boost morale – and help to keep muscles from becoming stiff or cramped which is another source of annoyance. Regular exercise doesn’t have to be too energetic. There are plenty of chair-based exercises and wheelchair exercises that can be done in your own living room.
Sleeping problems are common among people with disabilities due to discomfort or stress. Not sleeping properly affects both physical and mental health and can make us more prone to illnesses. Try some of the techniques suggested by mental health charity, Mind.
Search ‘sleep’ at: www.mind.org.uk
Methods such as mindfulness and yogabased exercises are becoming more popular as a way of improving mental health and reducing stress. The NHS now promotes mindfulness and describes it as
a way of “Paying more attention to the present moment, your own thoughts and feelings, and the world around you.”
Opening up and sharing issues, whether to a close friend or a health professional such as a counsellor, will make you feel better and may become part of a strategy towards feeling happier in the long-term.
Useful contacts for carers
www.carersuk.org – provides advice and support to carers nationally
www.carers.org – charity offering a range of support to unpaid carers
www.mind.org.uk – mental health charity providing advice and support