The Caring Together Art Journal Project

Mental health carers as partners in recovery

Carer strengths – 280 and counting

Why don’t we celebrate the incredible strengths mental health carers show? What is it that stops us describing carers as concerned, prepared, careful, realistic, nurturing, understanding, aware and courageous instead of “over anxious”? What about supportive, translator, connected, faithful, champion, guardian, capable, advocate or comforter, instead of “over protective”? “What about insightful, experienced, intuitive, motivated, gutsy and lifesaving rather than “over reacting”? Compassionate and generous, engaged,  informed, resourceful, planner, reassuring, instead of “over involved”?

Isn’t it time to turn things around and focus on the amazing things mental health carers CAN and DO offer, rather than falling back on old fashioned phrases that belittle the contribution they make? Because, after all, if they didn’t mean well, weren’t supportive and didn’t care – they simply wouldn’t be there. They wouldn’t be carers at all.

The recovery movement tells us that it is time to focus on the strengths of mental health consumers – and there would be few of us who wouldn’t applaud that. So why is it that we don’t also celebrate the strengths carers show? Why don’t we generally become more positive and acknowledge the enormous contribution we ALL make – consumers, clinicians and carers? And if we DON’T start doing that, how on earth will we move forward as a team?

There are very few people in the world who won’t, at some point, end up spending time in a caring role. The odds are high that we will ALL care for someone with dementia, a physical disability or mental illness at some point in our lives.  So it is important for all of us that we change our way of thinking, and the words we use to describe carers – ALL carers – with mental health carers not being treated any differently to others.

Surely focusing on strengths can only be a good thing. Surely it is one step on the way to partnership – a partnership being a collaboration where each party is held in a positive and respectful light – a partnership where blame, stigma and negative labels have no place.

Of course there’s a reason why I have suddenly jumped on this bandwagon and decided I urgently needed to start brainstorming carer strengths.

At work recently I was browsing a brand new book published for training mental health clinicians. It was full of stories from lots of different angles – clinicians, carers and consumers. On its face I thought it looked pretty good. Until I read a sentence which felt like a stab to the heart for a parent and mental health carer.

It was along the lines of “the evidence is clear that [this illness] is caused by a failure of parenting”. It jauntily skipped along being highly supportive of consumers (which I agreed with) – but throughout the paragraphs it kept blaming parents – not specific parents who may indeed have been abusive or neglectful – but ALL parents of children with this particular illness. Or at least that was how it came across.

It hurt. I felt that hurt for myself as if I had been slapped in the face. I felt that hurt for families who I know, from first hand experience, have just tried damn hard to do the right thing in an impossible situation. And as someone who had actually looked at the research in that area which no longer even supports that thinking, I felt it was scarily misleading – because this resource seeks to TEACH clinicians how to behave. (For interest’s sake, it isn’t long since schizophrenia was believed to have been caused by failures in parenting too*.)

I thought “for goodness sake – can’t we get over this blame stuff and move on?” How OLD is this? How did this get to publication without anyone seeing that promoting this kind of attitude might be a problem? And then … what can I do to change this type of thinking? Do we just need to flood our brains with positive thoughts, rather than negative ones? Will a list of words help? Words that can be pulled out when thinking about families, when writing reports, when speaking to colleagues, when collaborating in advisory groups, when trying to work together as partners in care?

How can I, one individual, get people to acknowledge the incredible number of STRENGTHS mental health carers demonstrate every day? How can I create some change? How can I help clinicians find the words to see us in a different light? How can I show clinicians that they, too, are actually carers, and that the strengths I describe apply to them too? How can I show that this makes us more similar than different?

The next day I sat down with a friend (also a carer) and we started to try to come up with some words that described carers in a positive way. I was aiming for 50 but wasn’t confident I would find them. We started slow. It was hard to turn even our own thinking around, because we too have been stuck in negative language. But once the words started coming, we couldn’t stop the flow. We stopped at 280 when I ran out of room on my page. By that time we knew we could go on forever. But that would leave nothing for you to do – and the simple process of brainstorming positive words is a powerful way to change the way we think.

This was our list:

280 carer strengths …. and counting

A list from the Caring Together Art Journal Project 2013

1. accepting
2. accessible
3. accountable
4. Acquainted
5. active
6. adaptable
7. advisor
8. advocate
9. affectionate
10. alert
11. always there
12. applauder
13. approachable
14. arranger
15. articulate
16. assertive
17. assistant
18. attentive
19. available
20. Aware
21. backer
22. balancer
23. believer
24. benevolent
25. boundary setter
26. bracing
27. brave
28. buttress
29. calming
30. capable
31. careful
32. caring
33. catcher
34. cautious
35. champion
36. cheerleader
37. collaborator
38. comforter
39. comforting
40. committed
41. communicator
42. companion
43. compassionate
44. competent
45. concerned
46. confidant
47. confident

48. congratulator
49. connected
50. connector
51. conscientious
52. considerate
53. considered
54. constructive
55. contemplative
56. contributor
57. controlled
58. co-operative
59. coper
60. correspondent
61. corroborator
62. courageous
63. courteous
64. creative
65. credible
66. debator
67. decision maker
68. dedicated
69. defender
70. dependable
71. descrambler
72. determined
73. devoted
74. diligent
75. diplomat
76. doer
77. dutiful
78. earnest
79. educated
80. educator
81. enabler
82. encouraging
83. enduring
84. energetic
85. engaged
86. enlightened
87. enquirer
88. enthusiastic
89. equal
90. essential
91. ethical
92. experienced
93. expert
94. fair

95. faithful
96. familiar
97. feeling
98. financer
99. flexible
100. focussed
101. fond
102. forgiving
103. forward thinking
104. friend
105. full-timer
106. generous
107. genuine
108. giving
109. goal setter
110. good intentioned
111. grateful
112. guardian
113. guidance seeker
114. guide
115. gutsy
116. hand holder
117. hands on
118. hard worker
119. heedful
120. helpful
121. holistic
122. homemaker
123. honest
124. honorable
125. hopeful
126. hospitable
127. host
128. hugger
129. humble
130. informed
131. innocent
132. Insightful
133. intangible
134. integral
135. integrity
136. intelligent
137. intent
138. Interested
139. interpreter
140. intuitive
141. inventive

142. involved
143. juggler
144. kind
145. knowledgeable
146. learner
147. lighthouse keeper
148. limit setter
149. lifesaver
150. logical
151. long-lasting
152. loving
153. loyal
154. manager
155. measured
156. meditative
157. mindful
158. modest
159. moral
160. motivated
161. motivator
162. multi-tasker
163. negotiator
164. nourishing
165. nurturing
166. obliging
167. observant
168. observer
169. open-hearted
170. open to new ideas
171. optimistic
172. organiser
173. participant
174. partner
175. passionate
176. pathfinder
177. patient
178. patron
179. peacekeeper
180. peacemaker
181. perceptive
182. persevering
183. place holder
184. planner
185. possibilitarian
186. positive
187. practical
188. practised

189. pragmatic
190. prepared
191. present
192. priceless
193. principled
194. problem solver
195. protective
196. protector
197. proud
198. provider
199. purposeful
200. rational
201. ready to connect
202. real
203. realistic
204. reasoning
205. reassuring
206. receptive
207. record keeper
208. recorder
209. referee
210. reflective
211. reliable
212. representative
213. resilient
214. resolute
215. resourceful
216. respectable
217. respectful
218. responsible
219. responsive
220. rock
221. role model
222. safe keeper
223. selfless
224. sensible
225. sensitive
226. serious
227. sharer
228. shoulder to cry on
229. shoulder to lean on
230. significant other
231. sincere
232. skilled
233. solicitous
234. soother
235. steady

236. strength giver
237. strong
238. supporter
239. Supportive
240. survivor
241. sympathetic
242. tactful
243. taxi driver
244. teamplayer
245. tender
246. thinker
247. thirsty for knowledge
248. thoughtful
249. tolerant
250. tough
251. translator
252. trustworthy
253. trusting
254. truthful
255. unconditional
256. understanding
257. unflinching
258. unhesitating
259. uniting
260. unselfish
261. unstinting
262. unwavering
263. useful
264. valid
265. validator
266. valuable
267. versatile
268. vigilant
269. vital
270. wanting to help
271. warm hearted
272. watchful
273. welcoming
274. well meaning
275. willing
276. willing to learn
277. wise
278. witness
279. worker
280. worthy

Please come up with your own lists. We would love to see them. And in the meantime, you can look at ours – I couldn’t fit them all into my picture, but I tried very hard! You are welcome to download our list of 280 words describing carer strengths (a list of words in PDF format – not my picture) and I hereby give you permission to share, print, hand out and distribute this particular PDF “as is” as much as you like – because wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could flood the world with positive ways to look at carers?

And if you happen to want a copy of the artwork, why not support my work on this project by buying a signed print? Every little bit helps!


*The fall of the schizophrenogenic mother. Harrington A:  Lancet, 2012, 379(9823):1292-1293.

Written & illustrated by Helen Wilding 2013.

Cite as: Wilding, H. (2013). Carer strengths – 280 and counting. The Caring Together Art Journal Project. Retrieved from

Copyright Helen Wilding 2013. All rights reserved.

Comments left on “Carer strengths”

Helen, another piece of beautiful art.

I can appreciate every single word in your commentary and did lots of ‘yes’ ‘yes’ out loud as I read through your thoughts.

I can see my own flaws at times as a carer but I dont need old theories imposed upon me by someone that doesn’t understand our family who through perhaps laziness just blames the mother or father.

Here’s to celebrating the strengths of mental health carers.

Comment left on “Carer strengths” 6 March 2013


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