Self-Care for carers and loved ones
Caring for someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be difficult and stressful. Your own mental health may slip further down your list of priorities, but it is vital to look after yourself in order to provide care and support.
Am I a carer?
Many carers don’t consider themselves to be “a carer”, because there is no clear boundary between being a carer and being a supportive partner, family member or friend.
Definitions of carers vary between different organisations, which can be confusing. For example, the UK benefits system has its own set of criteria for who can be considered a carer and therefore receive Carer’s Allowance. This may differ from the criteria which your Local Authority uses to assess whether you are entitled to additional support.
Mind and other charitable organisations have a wider definition of what it means to be a carer. You are considered to be caring for someone if you provide practical and/or emotional support to help them cope with daily life. A range of tasks is included in this definition, such as preparing meals, managing medication and attending appointments – this is the case for many loved ones of people with PTSD.
How can being a carer affect my own mental health?
The responsibility of caring for someone with PTSD can cause a lot of stress. Witnessing their symptoms is often distressing and listening to how they feel, while helpful, can be upsetting. You may find it difficult to cope, which can cause symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. You may neglect your physical health, such as by not getting enough sleep or exercise, which can affect your mood and reduce your ability to deal with stress. The demands of being a carer can also make you feel alone and isolated.
Another reason why self-care is so important is because of the potential for secondary traumatisation. What that means is that the spouses, partners, and family members of people with PTSD can develop their own symptoms. This can happen from listening to trauma stories or being exposed to scary symptoms like flashbacks. The more depleted and overwhelmed you feel, the greater the risk that you yourself may become traumatised.
Where can I get help and support?
Seeing your GP is essential when you are concerned about your wellbeing. You don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental illness yourself in order to receive support. GPs are aware of the issues involved in being a carer, so they can direct you to appropriate sources of help and support.
Counselling can be very valuable for carers, as it gives you the time and space to talk about your feelings without judgment. Some counselling is available on the NHS, but services and accessibility differ depending on where you live. Your GP can refer you to NHS counselling, if it is available, or to a private counsellor.
Citizens Advice in the various regions (England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland) and The Carers Trust have information on local services which can offer support. They also have a lot of useful online resources.
If you feel you can’t cope and need immediate help, please contact Samaritans.
How can I take care of myself?
It is important to give yourself some respite on a regular basis. Spending time away from the person you are caring for may be difficult, in both practical and emotional terms, but it makes a huge difference.
Looking after your physical health has a big impact on your wellbeing. Try to ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep, eat healthy meals and do some exercise. When you neglect these basic self-care tasks, it is harder to cope with the demands of being a carer. Planning your activities and sticking to a routine is beneficial for both yourself and the person for whom you care. Use a planner or calendar to schedule events, appointments and tasks. Write a weekly to-do list and highlight the most important tasks as priorities. Staying organised helps you feel more in control and reduces stress.
If you feel you can’t do anything else, sometimes the best thing you can do is connect with other carers, who will be able to share advice and coping strategies. By being in contact with people in similar situations, you will feel less isolated. Citizens Advice and your GP can put you in touch with local groups for carers, but also consider online support. Carers UK has an online forum and you can find other forums and groups on social media.
Carers UK run an advice line, online support carers groups throughout the UK.
This is a charity which was formed by joining The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroad Care. Their website gives practical advice about caring for someone.
This is a website where you can find government services and information. The link below has information on many issues related to caring for someone, including financial affairs and carers’ rights.
Your local council may keep a directory of local carers groups and services in your area.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.