FRIENDS Project, a Mid-West organisation established in 2013 in partnership with Shine and the HSE, claims that the traditional role of carer is not beneficial, as it can create an element of co-dependency between a ‘carer’ and a loved one.
Shine Regional Development Officer in Limerick, Ann Marie Flanagan advocates a new approach to dealing with a loved one with mental health difficulties.
She believes there is a “difference between caring for somebody, and caring about them. You will always care about your family member in crisis, but you don’t always have to care for them.”
FRIENDS Project Training and Development Officer, Sile Walsh, said, “Stepping back is not done in a cold or callous way, it is done in a very compassionate way. You can’t love somebody better.”
The project’s recovery model promotes self-awareness and independence, encouraging traditional ‘carers’ to step back from that role. Acknowledging the instinctual urge to tend to a loved one in crisis, Ms Flanagan says that ongoing care can hinder recovery.
“Stepping in when a person is going through a mental health difficulty is done from a position of love, of course, but it is also done from a position of fear.
“The majority of the time, that person receiving care from a traditional carer role will remain dependent because they have a family member who is reinforcing their illness by contributing to their burden,” Ms Flanagan said.
Encouraging a ‘carer’ to accept that they cannot control a situation is “crucial” to recovery, with acceptance being the preferred approach.
“If somebody is resistant to help or makes decisions that don’t seem right to an outside perspective, they still have to go on that journey. We respond by compassionately supporting them to reach acceptance,” said Ms Flanagan.
Andrew Cunneen, Ballinacurra native, echoes this need for acceptance when recalling his own situation of facing a loved one in crisis:
“While I provided the time and ears, they were able to focus on themselves and felt empowered to make bad decisions, as I would be there to help, if they needed help.
“My carer role was simply acting how I believe anyone should act in these situations – without labelling it as an aid and without any obligation,” Mr Cunneen finished,” he said.
Reflecting on her work with Shine and the FRIENDS Project, Ms Flanagan recalls exceedingly positive outcomes: “In almost every case I have worked, people afterward tell me that it was the first time they had to really look at themselves, that they have finally started to begin their own lives.
“It really is powerful in terms of how it has changed the lives of people who have come to us,” Ms Flanagan finished.