Caring for a loved one with mental health problems can be very challenging physically as well as emotionally. But there is a carers’ support group in Acton that aims to lighten the load.
When a member of Paulette Ranaraja’s family was diagnosed with a mental illness she knew nothing about it at that point.
“I felt isolated,” said Paulette (pictured above). “And caring for someone with mental illness can be a source of loneliness. Mental illness still carries a stigma.”
When Paulette retired as a teacher in 2004 she decided to use her time to set up a support group in Acton for fellow mental health carers. The group now has around 150 members who care for people with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The group, which receives some funding from Ealing Council, meets once a month and, usually, has a speaker who gives a talk on mental health, wellbeing or available services. The meetings also provide a chance for carers to share their experiences and offer advice to each other – as well as an opportunity to get involved with West London Mental Health Trust activities.
‘With mental illness there may be nothing visible’
Paulette said: “I have been to hell and back looking after my relative but got help and wanted to give something back when I retired. Carers need somewhere where they talk in total confidence. With mental illness there may be nothing visible and carers can be left in the dark about what’s happening with their loved ones.
“The carers group is somewhere where people can relax and go home feeling more informed, refreshed and a little lighter.”
A recent session held by the group in the summer looked at how carers can communicate more effectively with people with mental illness.
‘Support at the deepest possible level’
Ealing resident Donna (not her real name) turned to the group when her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year or two after leaving university.
She said: “Unlike a lot of people who were new to caring for someone with a mental illness, having worked for a mental health charity I knew that I needed the support of other carers. This group gives peer support at the deepest possible level. Anything you’re going through, no matter how bizarre, it’s very comforting to share with others and know that you’re not the only person experiencing it.
“There is a lot of stigma around mental illness but at the group you can be accepted and say anything you want. It’s very valuable to feel accepted. And quite a few people find themselves having to look after more than one family member at a time and it is good to know you’re not alone in that situation.”
When does the group meet?
The mental health carers support group meets every second Tuesday of the month except August between 5.30-8.30pm at West London Mental Health Trust’s building, Avenue House, 43-47 Avenue Road, W3 8NJ.
‘Unique emotional pressures’
Councillor Hitesh Tailor, the council’s cabinet member for health and adults’ services, said: “Caring for a loved one with mental health issues comes with unique emotional pressures. Given that one in four of us will be affected by a such an illness in any year, it’s great that carers have a support group like this where they can talk openly and share similar experiences.”
There are an estimated 35,000 carers in the borough looking after family members or friends but many are not accessing the help they may need.
Services to support the borough’s carers are therefore to be expanded by Ealing Council and Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group.
The new advice and support services for carers will build on the work of the existing Ealing Carers’ Centre in West Ealing which offers information and advice, support groups and exercise classes. Under the service, outreach support for carers will be available more widely across the borough.
- Contact Paulette on 07905 351 826
- For details of support available for carers in Ealing, visit: www.careplace.org