Looking after yourself

Supporting someone who has suicidal thoughts and behaviour, or who has attempted suicide, takes a lot of time and emotional energy. You may find yourself worried and preoccupied about the person and this can be physically and emotionally exhausting. You may feel a responsibility to keep them safe, which may seem like a significant burden; guilty for the way they are feeling; or perhaps angry and frustrated at them for causing you so much worry. These are all natural responses to a difficult situation. 

 

Focusing on yourself

When looking after someone who is experiencing such significant emotional turmoil, it can be easy to overlook your own needs. But when you are putting so much emotional energy and effort into supporting another person and keeping them from harm, it's important that you look after yourself to avoid burning out. Make your own health and wellbeing a priority, even if only to ensure that you can continue to provide the best care for them.

 

Reducing stress

It's important to maintain your own wellbeing, and have a range of strategies in place that you can use if you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed. These strategies can help to avoid burnout and assist you to keep emotionally and physically healthy. The following may be helpful both as ongoing stress management measures and strategies to call on in times of increased stress: 

 

  • maintaining regular exercise 
  • getting a good nights sleep
  • eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • avoiding alcohol or drugs as stress relievers
  • doing things that are meaningful and enjoyable for you, such as pursuing hobbies or interests
  • getting out into nature
  • listening to your favourite relaxing or uplifting music
  • practicing yoga or meditation
  • relaxation or deep breathing exercises
  • keeping a journal of your feelings

 

Sharing responsibility

It is very important that you don't try to deal with this situation by yourself. Wherever possible, enlist the help of family members, friends, colleagues or health professionals to help share the responsibility. This will not only lessen your own stress and help to avoid exhaustion but can also strengthen the support network of people who can look out for the person. This network can be of particular help with the various practical demands of being a carer, which can include: 

 

  • helping with domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning 
  • accompanying the person to appointments
  • liaising with health professionals
  • helping to write and implement a safety plan (see Making a safety plan)
  • keeping an eye out for possible warning signs of suicide (see Suicide warning signs)
  • regularly checking in with the person, either in person, over the phone or text message, to see how they are (see Talking with someone about their suicidal thoughts)

 

Talking about it

A vital part of looking after yourself is having people to talk to about the situation and how it is affecting you. This may be someone who is also concerned about the suicidal person and understands the situation like a family member or friend; or someone completely outside the situation who can offer their time, objective support and advice.

 

Professional support options

Professional counselling, either face-to-face, over the phone or online, can be an invaluable source of support. Working with a counsellor is an opportunity for you to talk honestly about your feelings, identify your own needs, and build on your coping strategies to better manage the situation. Counselling is generally available through self-referral to a local service:

 

  • via your GP, who may be able to suggest counselling services in your area
  • by using the search facilities available on websites of national peak bodies, such as PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) or ACA (Australian Counselling Association)
  • through the Suicide Call Back Service, who offer counselling to people supporting someone who is suicidal. Depending on your preference, you can access support via online counselling or telephone counselling (1300 659 467).

 

Another useful source of support is ARAFMI. These state-based groups provide specialist mental health support to families, carers and their friends. This support includes linking people to other carers who can offer peer support and education, and advocacy services which assist individuals to identify and find solutions to their challenges. To find your local service, visit http://www.mentalhealthcarersaustralia.org.au/.

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