ABOVE: Emma Burton, Carer Advocate from the One Door Mental Health Carer’s Service. PHOTO BY GRANT J EVERETT
By Emma Burton
My job as a Carer Advocate is to support people who are caring for a loved one with a mental health issue. Essentially, Carer Advocates care for carers. This includes providing practical support, teaching coping skills, helping them build a network of support people, and providing assistance in navigating the mental health system and NDIS.
Carer Advocates can also point you in the direction of supports and services you didn’t even know exist. Whether it’s one-on-one face-to-face support, a group meeting, or just chatting on the phone when you need someone to listen, our Carer Advocates can help.
All our services are supported by what we call The Four Pillars. They are…
Pillar One: Information
While our Carer’s Service has a “no wrong door policy”, it isn’t possible to provide a one-size-fits-all support option. Every recovery journey is unique, so we clearly spell out everything in layman’s terms: our services, their eligibility criteria, our referral process, how to navigate between different services, and so on.
Pillar Two: Emotional Support
We encourage carers to request all the emotional support they need to perform their roles as carers. I often meet with carers one-on-one in a café or some other gentle environment so they can share how they’re traveling. Carer Advocates spend a lot of time providing emotional support to carers. Knowing they are free to talk with someone who is willing to listen and will validate them with a non-judgemental approach can bring a lot of relief. Being a neutral, listening ear is a key part of my role, and while I also need to figure out what support they need in order to continue looking after their loved ones, it’s imperative that I help them to stay on top of their own self-care, too. Carers need to remember to look after themselves!
Our support groups are the most important component of our work. I facilitate one in Balmain and one in Glebe. We get together, have something to eat and share our experiences of caring for a loved one. We’ll see if anyone is facing hardships, acknowledge that being a carer is challenging at times, and work out what strategies can overcome our obstacles. Anyone who can share their experiences is brave and vital.
Pillar Three: Education
One Door offers educational modules created in consultation with health professionals and consumers. Our class teaches how to deal with anxiety and depression, self-care and how to boost our communication skills, to name a few. We also explain what a “carer” actually is, as we’ve found a lot of people are under the impression there’s a specific criteria that classifies someone as a carer, whereas it’s actually anyone who supports somebody with their mental health issues. While many carers are looking after a loved one with a specific mental health issue, they might not understand other mental health issues, so we aim to improve their understanding by debunking common myths. We want to do away with the kinds of unhelpful, untrue stigma that leads to mistreatment. An honest conversation goes a long way to sharing understanding.
Pillar Four: Advocacy
I can facilitate meetings for carers, link them up with relevant service providers (such as social workers or psychologists), and serve as a voice for carers who feel their needs (or the needs of their loved ones) aren’t being met. This might mean making contact with their treating team, for instance. We don’t provide legal advocacy, but we can use our voice to support carers in any other way.
Flourish Australia is also committed to helping carers who support loved ones with a lived experience of mental health issues. Our inclusive, holistic approach enhances the relationship between individuals and their families and other support people, and we do all we can to make their day-to-day challenges easier to manage. Receiving help from a carer will often play a key role in keeping someone with a mental health issues well, and help them to feel like they’re a part of their local community. So when somebody asks us for support, we discuss what they already have or how they can reconnect with their family, friends and other support people. We like to involve carers in the planning process to ensure everyone’s feedback and views are considered, and carers are most welcome to attend planning meetings. Their ideas and views will be acknowledged and listened to. We also partner with numerous specialist organisations in order to provide all kinds of assistance and education.
Our family and carer practise is based on A Practical Guide For Working With Carers Of People With A Mental Illness, a resource developed by a range of mental health organisations who specialise in providing support to carers.
To find out more about what we can do for carers and your loved ones, please contact us.
Call 1300 779 270