How can I take care of someone if I also have a mental illness?

Many people who take care of others also struggle with their own mental health. That’s partly because caregiving can be really stressful, and stress can trigger mental health issues.

We’ve written before about the stress of caregiving. All the same advice applies here—but even more so. If you live with mental illness yourself, it’s extra important to take care of yourself, manage expectations, ask for help, and set boundaries.

Stick to your own treatment plan

If you already know what helps you stay mentally healthy, stick to it. Don’t skip therapy sessions or stop taking your meds. (Of course, if you’re taking meds that aren’t working, that’s a different story.) If you manage your mental health on your own, make sure you have some form of accountability. Have a friend you call every week to check in, or just keep a calendar where you keep track of your self-care.

If you don’t already have a treatment plan, it’s time to start working on one. It might seem overwhelming—after all, the last thing you need right now is more work to do! But in the long-run, it’s not only important—it might save your life. And you’ll be a much better caregiver if you’re mentally healthy yourself.

You can start small: take some time to do something you enjoy, or call one of your friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Work your way up to finding a support group for caregivers, or making an appointment with a therapist. The important thing is that you’re moving in the right direction.

Boundaries and expectations

You’ll also want to take your own mental health into account as you define your role as a caregiver. When you’re setting limits on your expectations, don’t just think about what you can and can’t do physically—think about what you can and can’t handle emotionally, too. Just because other people can’t see your emotional limits doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Be aware of the ways in which your mental health affects your caregiving. For example, maybe you’re more likely to snap at people when you’re feeling anxious. If the person you’re taking care of also lives with a mental illness, you might sometimes bring out the worst in each other. Depending on your relationship with them, it might make sense to talk to them about what you’re going through. That way, you can both understand each other better and be more patient.

And ask for help! Every caregiver needs help sometimes, and it’s even more important when you’re dealing with mental health issues on top of it. Help comes in a lot of forms: someone can help you with your caregiving, or they can provide emotional support. Even small things can make a big difference.

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