The Caring Together Art Journal Project

Mental health carers as partners in recovery

Holders of hope – celebrating carers

Holders of hope … holders of hope … holders of hope ….

I’ve been repeating those words to myself recently, just letting them roll around on my tongue a bit, because they seem so perfectly right. So positive. So inspiring.

I heard the phrase for the first time a couple of weeks ago, at a mental health services conference. A highly respected clinician, academic and advocate for recovery used them to describe carers. It had the instantaneous effect of making me feel proud to be a carer. To be considered a holder of hope.

It also got me thinking. And questioning. And wondering. Then it made lots of new ideas jump out at me. It was one of those lightbulb moments.


 I’d like to share what “Holders of hope” means to me. And I hope that you might share what it means to you as well. Your stories and artwork would be very welcome.

My immediate reaction was to claim the words and make them my own. Being a visual person I could immediately picture myself holding on tightly to a precious bowl of budding flowers with butterflies and chirping birds settled amongst the blooms, all ready to take flight and discover new adventures. I could literally see myself holding on to hope for the people I love. And I could see lots of other carers holding their own bowls of flowers in all the colours of the rainbow.

But, alas, with that wonderful and uplifting picture in mind, my guilty conscience forces me to make a confession:  I’m afraid that I have not always been the holder of hope that I wanted to be. I tried hard. I will continue to try hard. But it has not always been possible.

Much as I tried, for many years, to balance that bowl of flowers and butterflies for someone I loved, there were times that I doubted its existence, tripped, or fell exhausted by the path, and lost my grip. There were times that I was so overwhelmed and exhausted as a carer, and things seemed so hopeless that I was no longer able to hold hope for myself, let alone find the strength to do it for someone else. There were times when I felt isolated by stigma, blame, guilt and negativity, and was dragged down by it. And there were times when I doubted my abilities, lost confidence, and just couldn’t remember how to do it anymore. There were times when I felt I failed as a carer, and was useless to the person I loved.

What made the difference in those times was when someone else – a friend, family, peer, clinician or support worker – came quietly by and picked up that hope for our family, just for a moment, to keep it safe. When someone else could see the bigger picture, talk about recovery and possibilities, and gently remind us that all was not lost. When someone else built up our confidence again, reminded us that we had made a difference, and that our love and care mattered. When we were reminded that our own needs were important, so that we could regain our strength to care, and set an example for our loved one. When we were empowered, educated and supported to do our job as carers. When we were motivated to try again. To hear someone else talk positively about even the smallest gains by our loved one, and celebrate those moments on our behalf until we were able to join in and accept joint custody of that hope again.

There were times when we simply needed to be reminded that where there is love, there is hope. And there was always, even in the most difficult of times, love. As family, that was something that never disappeared. We never stopped loving. We never stopped caring.

It is difficult to be the sole protector of something so precious for someone else. Holding hope is much easier to do if the job is shared. Carers, families and friends need to be enabled to hold hope for their loved ones. It doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes those entrusted with holding hope need support and respite. Our family has been no exception to that.

In my mind, we are all holders of hope at times. It is like a baton that we pass from one to another, working out ways to keep it safe and hold it aloft. It is not just carers who are holders of hope. Friends, family, support workers, GPs, teachers, clinicians, peer workers – all have a role to play in keeping hope alive. That is what strengths and recovery focused services aim for. It is what people want. We need to share lots and lots of stories of hope, positivity and recovery to show that it is possible. Because it is. We just don’t hear it often enough.

As people first, putting aside our formal or professional roles, we can all support each other. As this same speaker said at the conference, it is simply about people helping people.

And now? Am I a holder of hope? Sometimes. But the most wonderful feeling is no longer needing to be a holder of hope – because it has been handed back to its original owner. Who is flying with it.

Note: The keynote speaker referred to at the conference was Mike Slade, the author of many landmark documents on recovery. You can read more (and download lots for free) here –  

And another note:  Up until Carers Week 2013 (13th to 19th October) this picture will be made available as part of a free poster. Conditions apply of course. To find out more click here.

Story and illustration by Helen Wilding, 2013

Cite as: Wilding, H. (2013). Holders of Hope. The Caring Together Art Journal Project. Retrieved from

Comments on “Holders of hope”

I will always be a holder of hope, it is in my nature to be hopeful and positive.
However being a holder of hope for someone who is not able to hold their own hope is a totally different kettle of fish. It certaily challenged my abilty to feel hopeful. At times I have let go of the hope as the burden became too heavy or I felt ready to give up. I have needed to take a break and place the hope in a safe place to pick up again when I was ready and able to do so. I always knew that the hope was still there (somewhere) just not always shining at the forefront while we dealt with reality of mental illness. I have learnt to hope for smaller things, to be realistic and grateful for what we have and for every small achievement. I HOPE for the miracle of recovery.

Comment received on “Holders of Hope” 10 September 2013


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