looking after yourself when you're caring for someone else

11 Jun 2019
If you’re supporting a young person through mental health difficulties, it's important to take care of yourself too. Here are some tips.

When you’re supporting someone else, like a young person dealing with mental health issues, it's easy to let your own wellbeing slip to the bottom of the priority list. But sacrificing your own headspace won’t help anyone else’s. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish ­– it actually gives you more ability to be there for others.

One of the best things you can do to support someone is to model good mental and physical health. Here are some tips on how to improve your self-care while you’re supporting a young person.


Sleep well

Getting plenty of high-quality sleep is fantastic for your mood, clarity and resilience. Experts recommend that adults get between seven and nine hours sleep a night, but it’s important to also give your body time to get to sleep and time to wake up. That might mean adjusting your schedule, but it’s worth it for the extra energy you’ll have when dealing with a young person in your life who’s going through a difficult time.

If you’re having challenges getting to sleep or staying asleep, consider:

  • not looking at screens for an hour before bed

  • meditating or listening to a guided meditation

  • skipping evening wine or beer (alcohol can seem to make getting to sleep easier, but it reduces the quality of sleep).

Get moving

Exercise is good for more than just your physical fitness. It’s also one of the most reliable ways to balance your mood and boost self-esteem. If you’re supporting a young person through mental illness, being active can help you process fear, frustration and grief.

Whether its walking, running, biking, swimming, heading to the gym or playing a sport, adding some energy into your week is a great way to take better care of yourself.


Be kind to yourself

You might be worried about the young person you care about, or feel like you’re not doing enough. Know that this is completely normal. You could be working on nurturing your self-compassion. You can do this by:

  • speaking to yourself in a kind, non-judgemental way

  • forgiving yourself when things don’t go the way you want

  • taking care of your body with proper nutrition

  • limiting alcohol and other drugs

  • giving yourself the time to do things you love

  • meditating or getting in touch with nature

  • connecting with friends, family and your community.

Loving and supporting ourselves makes it a lot easier to love and support others.

Seek support

If a young person heavily relies on you for support it’s easy to feel like you’re on your own. Just remember that there are many other people who can help support you both. Reach out to friends and family for practical help and emotional support.

If your child, family member, or friend is at school, TAFE or uni, it’s worth encouraging them to get in touch with their institution, or do it yourself (with their consent). Odds are there will be a range of services available, from counselling to special consideration.

Watching a young person you’re close to going through mental health challenges can be tough. If you’re not feeling as solid as you’d like to, speaking to a mental health professional could help. It really helps to talk through what’s been going on.

An expert will also be able to help you with strategies for communicating with and supporting the young person in your life. Speak to your GP for a mental healthcare plan to see a mental health professional.

If the young person you’re supporting isn’t already seeing a mental health professional, it’s good to encourage them to do so. You might even like to arrange it or help them get there. headspace has over one hundred centres across Australia – find your local one here.