Mental Health of Caregivers
What is a caregiver?
Caregivers are often people who are there to provide support and help for people who can’t live their lives under “normal” circumstances, or people who need others’ assistance to complete their day-to-day activities. Other than children or the elderly, the people who need help from caregivers are classified as the “chronically ill”. Caregivers exist to help people with chronic illnesses that create severe life impairment complete their day-to-day activities, and also improve their mental well-being. Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes, from all kinds of backgrounds or ethnicities, and provide care for many different reasons.
Many families can’t afford to put their loved ones into homes or assisted living programs, and are thus forced to take care of these individuals themselves. 71% of caregivers nationally care for a person with chronic or long-term illness, which means that they typically provide for these people full-time, and often for months or years at a time. In doing this exhausting task, caregivers often feel very “burdened” both emotionally and physically by their responsibilities, and most report feeling lower mental health standards themselves.
What is “caregiver’s burden”?
Providing, assisting, and caring for individuals with persistent mental illness can leave caregivers with an overall lower sense of well-being known as caregiver burden. According to a recent case study informal caregivers, or rather someone who is a family member or close friend and not a professional caregiver, very often experience “negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health” as a result of the “chronic stressors” of caregiving.
It can happen to any of the 44 million individuals worldwide caring for someone. When you need to clean, drive, feed, and provide medication, oxygen, and treatment for someone in addition to caring for yourself, it adds a complex amount of persistent stress to your life that leads to real complications to both your mental and physical health. Beyond this, it is not uncommon for the uncertainty of whether or not the individual you are providing care for gets better to also lead to excessive stress. From the same study, we can observe that “While a single stressful event or multiple events with time to recover between events may not affect health, multiple stressors [like from caring for a patient with long-term or persistent illness] without adequate recovery time or chronic stressful events as presented in the case study, are likely to increase the risk for illness.” If the stress for caring for someone becomes too high, there is a chance the caregiver “burns out”, or rather, is unable to care for either themselves or even the patient.
What can you do to relieve the “caregiver burden”?
- Recognize when you need help.
You should never feel like it is stigmatized to seek help for mental health problems. People with “caregiver’s burden” often believe that they don’t need help because they have lived without mental illness their entire lives. Recognizing that you do need help is half the battle, shows the bravery and determination you have to get better, and will only help you (and the person you provide care for) in the long run.
- Realize you are not alone.
Many, many people feel the way that you do and there are countless outside resources you can refer to. Full Circle Care is a website devoted to assisting family caregivers, and even has a “caregiver burden inventory” which is a series of questions to gauge the amount of stress you feel from caring for your patient or family member. If you score high on the inventory, it is highly recommended that you seek help from other organizations to give you time away from the individual you provide care for.
- Consider peer support.
It also helps to talk to someone who has been through what you’re currently experiencing. Here at NoStigmas, we can help you find a peer-to-peer support program that matches you up with a qualified mentor, who you can ask questions, seek advice from, and generally just talk to if you’re feeling down.
- Put yourself first.
Always put your own health first. Although this seems difficult, it is extremely important to keep yourself healthy so when you are caring for your patient it is on your time. Sometimes distancing yourself from the situation temporarily is the best thing you can do to feel better about it, as it allows you to cope with your stress and relieve much of your burden. If distancing yourself temporarily from the patient or family member whom you provide care for is not enough, then it might be best to look for another caregiver to replace you. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and you can still do your part in making the new caregiver’s job easier.