By REBECCA SPARROW
Now don’t get me wrong. I love the idea behind RUOK day. I love that it reminds us to take the time to ‘check in’ with everyone in our lives – especially those people we know are living with depression. And more importantly to really listen to the answer.
But I have one favour to ask. One reminder to give.
It’s not just those people in our lives who are clearly suffering from depression or any other form of mental illness that we need to ask, RUOK?
It’s also the people who care for them. Their family and friends. Because what I know is that the people providing the scaffolding to those with depression are often bearing an enormous weight. Not a burden. A weight. And it needs to be acknowledged.
There are husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers and close friends who are continually checking in. Dropping everything to offer support. Taking phone calls. Driving over. Or making an extra spot at the dinner table. They are taking on more childcare, household or financial responsibilities. They are often leading the charge for resources, solutions and help.
And that is at times an emotionally and physically draining role. And what we know is that the emotional and mental wellbeing of those carers can also be compromised. And if the family and friends of those with depression aren’t strong enough to be that support network — well, there are no winners.
Which is why I love Partners In Depression – a six-week education and support group program for people who love, live with or care for someone experiencing depression.
As the website states, “It provides people with the information and tools to better support the person in their life with depression, and themselves.”
According to Jaelea Skehan, Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, it is estimated that 2.6 million Australians are carers, many of whom are providing practical day-to-day and emotional support for people experiencing mental illness.
“We know (from a national report we released last year) that people providing support to someone with depression have poorer physical and mental health, challenges with their relationships and are less likely to participate in social activities,” says Jaelea.
“Perhaps even more worrying, carers reported levels of psychological distress that were much higher than the Australian population and that suggested an immediate risk of mental ill-health.”
So what do those people CARING for people with depression need? Jaelea suggests the following:
- Information about depression and its treatment;
- Awareness of the personal and emotional impact the caring role can have;
- Tips for managing increased responsibilities;
- Coping and self-care strategies;
- Advice on how to nurture and their relationships with the person outside of the caring role;
- Understanding from other family, friends and colleagues;
- Awareness of services they can access for their own mental health and wellbeing;
- Hope for the future, regardless of the recovery stage of the person being supported.
So on RUOK Day this Thursday reach out to anyone whom you think is struggling with a problem big or small. And reach out to the people around them. Just check in and make sure that they are also okay. And remember asking RUOK? is just the start of the conversation.
If you or a loved one need help, please take a look at the following websites:
Lifeline Australia for crisis support and suicide prevention: click here.
Beyondblue, for depression and anxiety: click here.
SANE, the national mental health charity: click here.
Moodgym, for free online cognitive behaviour therapy: click here.
Headspace, for online counseling: click here.
Kidshelpline: click here.
PANDA, the post and antenatal depression association: click here.