Looking after yourself as a carer

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Operational police work can feel more like a 24-hour lifestyle choice than a job. Shift work and long hours can affect the routine of family life.

When plans change at short notice and regular routines are upset, some partners can feel isolated or like solo parents. 

As a partner, you’re likely to be the main confidant or sounding board for your spouse as they manage the demands of a job, which frequently includes stressful or traumatic situations. 

On the other hand, some police employees choose not to talk about work at home at all, which can leave some partners and families feeling cut off from a significant part of their loved one’s life.

Changes in your partner’s mood or behaviour, and difficulties managing emotions can leave you feeling that your concerns and your family’s needs are minimised. You might also feel like you’re ‘walking on eggshells’ to avoid triggering angry reactions from your partner.

Caring for yourself

If you are a partner, family member or close friend of a person struggling with mental health, it’s likely you’ll be affected by their experience.  You may experience sadness, frustration, worry or even hopelessness.  

To care for others you first need to care for yourself. Remember the flight safety message about putting your own oxygen mask on first—it’s the same principle in life.

Be compassionate with yourself. If you feel angry, worried, disappointed, or fearful, acknowledge how you feel and don’t pretend that this experience isn’t hard. You are doing the best you can right now.

Protect yourself

Remember you are not to blame and don’t take hurtful comments personally. Know that some mental health conditions can lead to anger and frustration being expressed but that this is not your fault.

Get help if your partner is being aggressive towards you and consider some boundaries you may need to put in your relationship if it’s becoming difficult to support them. You do not have to take on all of their burdens yourself and it’s not selfish to communicate a limit of what you can handle.

Make sure you’ve got a good support network. Make friends both within and outside Victoria Police.

Create healthy habits

It’s essential for you to look after your own mental health and wellbeing. By exercising, eating healthy and sleeping well you’ll have the major elements of self-care covered.

Think about the healthy activities in you life that help you to release tension and feel more relaxed. Do more of these, no matter how small they are.

Focus on your personal strengths and resources (practical, psychological or spiritual). This could be anything from your financial stability to faith, fitness, creative outlets, or even having supportive family and friends. Think about what you have relied on to cope with challenging times in the past.

Learn and practise new relaxation techniques and take some time out for youself– perhaps to try a new hobby or reconnect with an old one.  

Build your coping skills

Develop coping strategies including conflict resolution, problem solving and positive self-talk. Relationships Australia has some great resources and services to help you build communication skills.

Ask for help when you need it, even if this feels difficult or unfamiliar. 

Connect with your loved one

Set up some relaxed regular social time with your partner or family member every week. Give yourself permission during this time to not talk about stressful things or problems in the relationship. Just focus on enjoying the time together.

Getting the help you need

Your local GP will be able to find and refer you to a counsellor. Or, if you are a family member of a Victoria Police employee you may be eligible to use the Employee Assistance Program to access support. To find out more, contact Victoria Police Wellbeing Services on 9247 3344.

Find a carers group for support if your partner is experiencing a mental illness, such as SANE online carers forum. This can give you a space to give and receive support from others in your situation.

Carer’s Australia offers free, short-term counselling support for people who are unpaid carers.