The turbulence we have all felt over the past few years has led to increased attention on mental health and a focus on the capacity of our mental healthcare system to respond in challenging times. This is even more important in rural and remote Australia, where the flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and staff shortages have stretched access to mental health care. As a result, family and friends often find themselves on the frontline, caring for a loved one experiencing mental ill health or suicidal distress. Care can be in the form of emotional, financial and practical support, and can often extend outside the responsibilities of being a mum, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle or friend.
In Australia, 2.5 million family and friends support someone in their life. Many of these informal carers are often surprised to find themselves in this role before they have the opportunity to learn how to care for their loved one or access more formal support. This can be even more challenging in rural and remote areas where distance and access to health care are issues.
Carers can sometimes feel invisible and overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Providing support for a loved one experiencing mental ill health or suicidal distress can affect their energy, time, finances and emotions. Further, we know that carers often experience an increase in their own symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of their caring role. It therefore becomes even more important to not only support those experiencing mental ill health in our rural communities, but to also support those providing their care.
Minds Together is a new suite of programs, developed by Everymind, for the partners, spouses, family members, friends and colleagues who provide most of the support to people experiencing mental ill health and suicidal distress. The free, self-paced online programs provide practical skills and strategies to help people support the mental health of their family and friends – and to also look after themselves. These programs have been developed in collaboration with family and friends supporting people with mental ill health or suicidal distress. They provide practical ways of dealing with the challenges of caring for yourself and others, including managing increased responsibilities and strategies for sharing the load.
Resources are tailored to a range of circumstances, focusing on healthy coping strategies, tips for strengthening communication and relationships, as well as how to maintain hope for the future, regardless of the recovery stage of the person you are supporting. The programs are tailored to the unique experiences of carers across a range of settings and relationships. They include interactive activities such as videos from other carers, expert podcasts and peer-to-peer support.
We are currently running two research trials to evaluate two new additions to the Minds Together family. If you are a family member or friend supporting someone who has attempted suicide, or a family member or friend supporting the mental health of a paramedic, you can sign up to take part on mindstogether.org.au
We can strengthen the support available for people experiencing mental ill health across Australia by empowering the family and friends who provide care as frontline workers of the unpaid workforce.