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  • Writer's pictureLouise G

b words and other stories | stuff I know about parents + carers.

I have been employed in the mental health field as a professional for most of my adult life. I have seen some stuff. Sad stuff. Angry stuff. All of the emotions stuff. But my favourite is always the joyous stuff. In particular, the happiness that I see when a person is recovering from an illness, and their loved ones know that they are turning a corner. It is often loved ones that see if first. They see it before the health professionals, they see it before the person with the illness does. Because, they truly know how to differentiate between the illness and the person that they love. Through it all, the highs and lows, triumphs and frustrations, they've stayed positive and hopeful, sometimes when that has been lost on others.


The role that family [and I use that term generally to describe ANYONE who is an important person in another person's life] play in the recovery of a person recovering from mental illness should never be under-estimated. The importance of family involvement is particularly critical for the recovery of a young person with an eating disorder. Sadly though, I've witnessed occasions where this has either not been prioritised, or the engagement of family has not been done well. When I refer to "done well", what do I mean exactly?


Well, the reflections of family members is something that is not heard enough. I have had the privilege of being able to ask questions of parents and carers about their experiences, often learning that they have had contact with various mental health services for many years by the time I have met them. Their stories are all unique, but also eerily similar at the same time.


What I hear consistently is :

  • I/we feel useless and helpless [aka not feeling empowered or confident]

  • I/we feel so isolated [aka not connected with people with lived or shared experiences]

  • I/we are so burnt-out [aka no time and/or not knowing how to implement self-care]

  • I/we are not told things that would help us understand better [aka education]

  • I/we feel that their young person hates them [aka not having the skills to communicate effectively and/or a build-up of all of the things mentioned above]

What I know is :

  • More often than not, families want to be empowered and feel confident

  • More often than not, families want help to connect with others

  • More often than not, families want to know how to take care of themselves

  • More often than not, families want more information and resources

  • More often than not, families want to connect and communicate with their young person

What is the answer? There is no simple answer.


However, if i could take a quick guess, I would say that the foundation of any strategy should contain four key things.


COMPASSION. CONNECTION. COMMUNICATION. EDUCATION.


Everything else is an added bonus. Fancy therapies and expensive resources amount to nothing, if the family is not engaged and is not supported.


I recently attended a wonderful training session with CEED [Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders] to start my journey to become a CCSW facilitator [Collaborative Carer Skills Workshop]. It really cemented for me, the importance of seeing that there are different 'units' in a family that all need different things. The young person - needs treatment for the illness. The young person and their family - need therapy to stay strong together. The care givers, whoever that may be, need to have their own space to feel empowered and learn the skills that will help them in every aspect of every relationship that they have in their family unit, to ultimately walk alongside their young person confidently through recovery. It works, and all it is really doing on a basic level, is giving skills to families while listening to them, validating their importance, and saying "hey, you've got this!".


Never in my career have I dismissed or underestimated the importance of families during someone's recovery from mental illness. However, I can now wholeheartedly say, I've stepped it up another level. Families, parents, carers - I see you. I see your hurt. I see your struggles. But I also see your worth and the incredible positive power that you hold. It is life saving medicine that can't be bottled!



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