Coping with your first responder partner’s mental illness or mental health involves supporting your loved one while also looking after yourself and your family.
Looking after yourself allows you to provide care and support to someone you love who is going through a tough time and is very important. Particularly if your loved one is an emergency service worker who is more likely to face potentially traumatic incidents every time they go to work.
You may also carry the weight of the risks they face each day on the job and are a trusted support for them in their times of need. This article aims to provide some information about how you can look after yourself, so you can continue to be in the best position to extend support and care to your loved one as they navigate a tough time.
THE CHALLENGES OF FIRST RESPONDER MENTAL ILLNESS
Whether or not your loved one has sought help or even been diagnosed with a mental illness, there are some common signs they may be experiencing a psychological injury. You may have experienced the impact of these common signs on your everyday life, family routines, and your own mental wellbeing. Many partners and support people report similar feelings and experiences as a result of their loved one’s mental wellbeing.
|Signs that you partner may be experiencing a psychological injury:||What you may be experiencing:|
|Violence is never OK!
There is no excuse for violence, either from your loved one or from you. If things escalate, reach out to a crisis line:
Each of these signs or feelings contributes to negative emotion. Check in with your loved one and with yourself regularly to see how you are going and understand whether it might be time to do something to help build your mental wellbeing.
If you are experiencing your own mental health symptoms, it’s a good idea to get help through your GP. Early access to support can make a huge difference to recovery. Watch the First Appointment Videos for insights on what to expect.
BUILD YOUR WELLBEING – COPING WITH CHALLENGES
To be able to care for your first responder partner you need to look after yourself as well. Being empathetic will help your loved one but taking on too much of their negative emotion can hurt you too and prevent you from being their best support.
It’s not always easy to know whether you’ve got the right balance. If you’re not sure or you feel there’s too much to cope with, speak with your GP about getting help.
Some strategies that are helpful include:
- Quality sleep, regular exercise or physical activity, healthy diet
- Make time for social engagements that you can enjoy without your loved one or family. It might be helpful to see friends who don’t know much about what’s happening at home so you can focus on other aspects of life and get some respite from what’s going on right now
- Do activities you find enjoyable: read, watch a program or movie, go to the park with children, art and craft, etc
Be cautious of engaging in activities that are not helpful:
- Use of alcohol and drugs
- “Fighting back” with anger
- Violence of any kind: emotional, physical
Your support people
Building your own network of supporters gives you an outlet to share your feelings, or a space to get away from the challenges. Keeping your support network tight might help to avoid over-extending yourself: the bigger your support network, the more people you need to keep updated and the more pressure you may feel to provide updates.
Ask your loved one to speak with their treating psychologist about a psychoeducation session for you to attend together. Psychoeducation can involve:
- Communication strategies
- Identifying strategies to use together as a team or family when facing a difficult situation
- Giving the family an understanding of why their loved one is behaving the way they do
- Helping the family understand the symptoms, treatment trajectory and likely recovery timeframes
- Identifying and recognising emotions and behaviours, helping your loved one better understand or be aware of the impact their condition has on the family
- Negotiating challenging emotions or emotional issues arising as a result of a diagnosis
- Problem-solving, expectation management around your loved one’s ability to engage in life or relationships
If your loved one has an accepted claim for workers compensation or personal injury you may be eligible for short-term support for activities of daily living (ADL) such as a house cleaner, lawn-mowing, meal preparation. Or respite care to take time out to recharge.
Emergency service agencies family or peer support services. Ask your loved one to enquire with their employer or search the employer website for details.
Through your loved one’s employer, they may have access to external provider services such as those listed in this Wellness Support brochure.
Apps for wellbeing
Several apps and e-tools have been made available to help support mental fitness through exercise, quality sleep, mindfulness and diet. They are not designed to replace high quality clinical care for people living with a mental illness.
Check them out at https://www.eml.com.au/resources/apps-for-wellbeing/
A range of services are available online and in your local community. Many of these services are free or low cost. EML has published a series of fact sheets that can assist you to identify suitable services:
- Online resources and support for family
- Resources for carers
- Community support and services
- Support in rural communities
- Financial support options
- Mental health resources