Caring for others

Most adults provide informal care for someone else. It might be their husband, wife or partner, one or more children, a parent who’s close by or a long distance away, a friend with a health or social problem, or maybe a frail neighbour who needs help. So everyone benefits from a kindly relative, partner or friend. That might be via direct personal care or providing emotional support which boosts the person’s health and wellbeing.

Help and interest from friends and family may encourage someone to adhere to taking their medication or other health advice, and reduce the chances of their health condition getting worse.

Sometimes it’s the unhealthy behaviour in a person providing support that can make a patient’s own health worse. People with schizophrenia for instance with families who are critical, hostile or over-involved have more frequent relapses of their mental health condition than those with similar problems whose families are more stable and less expressive of their emotions. Family and partner bonds may deteriorate if a stressed person is pre-occupied with his or her own feelings, and appears disinterested. Then one problem creates another. Children or spouses can feel that they are unimportant compared to the stressed person's work, even maybe triggering a breakdown of their family unit making the person’s situation worse and straining relationships even further.

People should be encouraged by health professionals and those close to them to think positively about their health and future wellbeing. There’s a clear link between someone’s ability to manage emotional and psychological issues and their being motivated to self care. However, some carers take too much responsibility upon themselves and do not encourage the patient to self care independently. People with diabetes for instance, may be actively ‘managed’ by their partners in relation to their diet, blood sugar monitoring, etc. Then if that partner or carer dies or has to go away they’re not able to manage their diabetes on their own.

Someone who’s had a stroke may have physical or cognitive impairments that make self care difficult, and need all the support they can get from family and friends. Other patients may have caring responsibilities themselves (children or other dependents), and that restricts their ability to undertake self care for themselves.

Q. My aunt moved here from West Africa in the 1980s. She doesn’t consider her high blood pressure as being a health problem and she sees her obesity as a mark of her wealth and status, rather than these adversely affecting her health.

A. Attitudes towards health, disease and self care vary according to people’s cultural background. Knowing more about their disease or ill health helps someone to take better care of themselves. So find some reliable information on the internet, maybe from a national charity linked to a particular health condition, or NHS websites. People who are better informed about their condition tend to be more motivated to self care and hopefully your aunt will realise she must take her prescribed medication and lose weight.