Support in life decisions

Support with life decisions was very important for the people we spoke to. The ups and downs of living with severe mental health problems meant support was both essential but could also be difficult to obtain. Many people had experienced divorce, separation or a breakdown in family relationships and found friendships difficult to maintain. When people found it difficult to talk about their symptoms they could isolate themselves and perceived stigma and discrimination could make it difficult to reach out for help.

This Talking Point is about the support people received when making life decisions including moving home, finding work, and getting help with managing their symptoms. Some people spoke about how they needed someone to help or give an extra push to get them to commit to a change that ultimately helped them move towards personal recovery. Others felt it was important to remember that support isn’t always available and cautioned against becoming over-reliant, like Evan who said, ‘to become yourself you’ve got to be able to make your final decision’.

Quick Links

Getting help with being unwell
Working
Daily decisions and living independently
Finding somewhere to live


Evan explained that problems related to mental health create a lot of uncertainty and there was a need to be able to trust others.

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Many people talked about how their family, and parents in particular, supported them and you can read more about that here: Family and friends. Getting support from family members could be very important because family are often in regular contact and able to offer a special kind of connection and reassurance. However, if family members were not coping or did not know how best to give support, this could place an added strain on people and relationships.

Brendan said his mother worries about him, but rather than this being a support, he found it added to his problems.

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Knowing that family members were also receiving support was important to some of the people we spoke to. This could mean help in coming to terms with the diagnosis a loved one had received, or practical assistance. When Maria was in hospital, translators were provided for her parents, which meant they could better understand what was happening.

Getting help with being unwell

When people first became unwell, not knowing what to expect or feeling let down was a common experience. When Jenny became unwell she couldn’t get medical help because she ‘didn’t know how to go about it’. She saw a psychiatrist but felt he ‘didn’t really help’.

When people were in ‘crisis’ it could also be difficult to know where to turn. When David was experiencing symptoms of depression in his pre-teens, he was too self-conscious because of perceived stigma to seek help. He attended a school where his parents both taught and he didn’t have the confidence to see the school counsellor in case his parents found out. David also said seeing a counsellor was stigmatised among his peers as a ‘sign of weakness’.

Niall used crisis support phone lines when he was feeling suicidal because having someone anonymous to speak to confidentially was a big help.

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Some people spoke about their relief when friends or family stepped in and made them get help.

When Brendan was feeling very unwell he considered ending his life. A friend in whom he confided told him to get some help.

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Finding other people with similar experiences could be very reassuring. Some of those who attended support groups found them to be a place to socialise and gain valuable information and support to help them in their personal recovery. Support groups also provided practical assistance and you can read more about that here: Mental Health Community Support Services and Peer Support. However, groups weren’t for everyone. Brendan described how he had gone to a support group and completed a course on self-esteem but had stopped going because he felt he was doing better than some of the other people who attended and that their ‘stories seemed a lot different’ to his own.

Working

Many people we spoke to had paid employment at some time in their lives. They talked about the challenges of work when they felt anxious and some people mentioned their ongoing concerns about what would happen should they become unwell. Feeling supported could mean simply getting confirmation that it was okay to take time off when needed or receiving assistance to find a job that suited them (see Experiences of work). Jenny wasn’t enjoying her work in accounts but struggled to find a different job because she ‘didn’t have the confidence’ or self-esteem to do the ‘right things by myself to be getting a job’. She said her psychiatrist told her ‘you’ll never get another job, stick with what you’ve got’, which she didn’t find helpful. Eventually a friend who Jenny met when she attended a course found her a job at a women’s refuge.

Paddy’s psychiatrist helped him when he was anxious about going back to work because he thought he wasn’t well enough.

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Daily decisions and living independently

Making daily decisions like what to eat, how to make the best use of finances, or even whether to shower or go out, was a challenge for some people. Support could be provided through training, practical assistance, or having aspects of their care taken over by others. Chris was living with his mother when he felt very depressed. He said that he didn’t know how to cook or look after himself because his mother had always done everything for him. Chris described how he attended a residential programme where the workers helped him get his ‘life back on track’. They taught him about personal hygiene, cooking and shopping. Chris described how the course helped him to feel less isolated and make friends. He said it helped him ‘get the desire, the will back, to exist, to live again’. Charlie had ‘lost the ability to handle money and to use the telephone’. She explained how she had received long term support from a ‘mobile support team’ worker who took her to the supermarket, out for walks in the park, and to her appointments. Gurvinder said he had always had problems paying rent and now has a state trustee, appointed by his social worker, who makes decisions over his money.

Taylor found going to the shopping centre difficult and although her psychologist had given her ‘methods’ for dealing with her social anxiety, she thought there was a need for someone to ‘hold your hand, to go with you’.

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Tanai found that if she didn’t get out of the house regularly she developed agoraphobia. Going to a psychosocial rehab helped her learn how to socialise, buy her own groceries, and keep her home clean.

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Integrated support for those who had spent time in the prison system was seen as important. While Brian was given choices and support when he left prison, Charlie said when she was released she received no support despite still feeling unwell and had nowhere to live. Charlie thought this could have been ‘better handled’.

Finding somewhere to live

Several people mentioned being homeless or having to ‘couch surf’ at some point in their lives (see Finances and housing). People relied on friends and family networks for help. When Simon’s mother gave him a week to ‘get out of the house’, his father found some friends who took him in. Allen said his uncle helped him find somewhere to stay when he left hospital because his parents wouldn’t take him in. Chris ‘bumped into’ a woman at a mental health conference who had supported him previously. He said she put in an application for accommodation for him. Other people talked about the difficulties they faced when they did not receive support to find appropriate accommodation.

When Michelle was told to leave the mental health unit she had nowhere to go and no one to help her. She made phone calls and found a caravan park where she lived for nine months but her health deteriorated.

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