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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

When caring for someone in mental health distress, focus on the person’s abilities


May 12, 2017, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

Being a caregiver for a person in mental health distress can be complex and challenging, says Gillian Gray, Program Manager, Family Outreach & Response, Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto. Among the many challenges caregivers face is finding the right balance between providing conscientious care and supporting independence.
“Two of the key components in recovery are personal responsibility and self-advocacy,” says Gray. “That’s why it’s important to make room for choice whenever possible. It’s also important to remind the person of his strengths and skills, and provide opportunities to highlight those strengths.”
When you’re caring for someone in crisis, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose sight of their underlying abilities. “Don’t assume that the person is not capable of doing something,” says Gray. “They may be having more difficulty than previously, but it could be a question of breaking down the activity into small, achievable steps to help them get back to doing things they enjoy.”  
Other valuable advice from Gray:
  • Talk to the person you are caring for about when it’s okay for you to be involved in their treatment, and when it’s not okay.
  • Always say when a person’s behavior is not okay with you – when you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or they are not respecting one of your boundaries.
  • When the person you are caring for experiences delusions or paranoia, don’t argue about the content of their thoughts: instead, connect with the feelings and needs they are expressing.
  • If the person you’re caring for has unusual behaviors but they’re not distressing to you or others, don’t let embarrassment get in the way of your relationship.
  • If the person you’re caring for is choosing not to take medication, remember that medication is only one tool in recovery: there are many other approaches that are helpful. Talk to the person about what they think would help their recovery.
Above all, Gray says caregivers should strive to be “a source of hope and possibility” for the person they are caring for. She points to Pat Deegan’s recovery story (a consumer survivor advocate) that began with her sitting alone in her room. Each day her grandmother would ask her if she would like to go shopping. Day after day, she didn’t answer or said “no.” But when she was ready to engage, her grandmother was there again with the offer, and it was a turning point in her recovery. “Try to offer an invitation for engagement or support, and then as much as you can, detach from the outcome,” Gray says. “Let the person know that there are options, but don’t make it a burden.”
See also:
CMHA Ontario’s list of supports for families and caregivers

We The Caring, episode 1 (10 min video, ThisMatters2Media)


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Thank you so very much for the advice. Actually I own a company where I used to provide home health care for the seniors. Your tips are very useful for me. I will let the employees know on how they can care better.