Caregiver Mental Health
When you assume the role of a caregiver, your risk for issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety becomes substantially higher. The demanding tasks and daily mental grind can quickly bog down a professional care provider.
It’s important to stay in tune with your wellbeing and have a system to gauge where you stand mentally. If you’re a caregiver and need resources for maintaining a healthy mindset, you’re in the right place.
Caregiver Mental Health Issues
There is a wide range of symptoms and mental ailments that can come with being a caregiver. Continue reading for potential health effects from being a professional care provider.
A recent study conducted by California’s Caregiver Resource Center shows that 60% of caregivers suffer from depression. This statistic is nearly four times the national average.
While caregiving itself may not directly cause depression, behaviors that are a byproduct of the job do. Neglecting your health and mental wellbeing to put your energy and focus into other people and things is a leading cause of this illness.
Whenever we neglect ourselves, mental conditions and illnesses can quickly sneak up on us. Before we know it, negative feelings are dictating our thoughts and behaviors, and it can be overwhelming.
Signs of depression include sadness, isolation, exhaustion, anger, and frustration. It can be hard to deal with these feelings if we don’t know the root cause.
These feelings often stem from a patient that a caregiver once provided for being placed in a nursing home or passing away. Even after a substantial amount of time, these feelings can remain.
Because of the damaging effects of depression, caregivers are more likely to suffer from other issues. Many caregivers deal with problems that stem from anxiety, substance abuse, and even chronic physical illness brought on from depression.
Depression isn’t the only mental ailment care providers deal with. Stress and frustration leading directly from issues with their job can also be crippling.
Caregiver Stress and Frustration
Studies have shown that 16% of caregivers are emotionally strained. Attempting to juggle one or more patients plus a normal home life can be too much to handle for certain caregivers.
The stress related to managing multiple lives at once can cause devastating health effects. Stress often leads to other major health issues and feelings of hopelessness or frustration.
Frustration can also be an issue from certain patient behavior. It’s important not to let frustration get the best of you if there is a disagreement with a patient or a patient’s family. Maybe an order from a doctor didn’t sit well with you.
This is where having boundaries comes into play. Staying neutral and keeping your composure is important to minimizing the effects of stress and frustration.
Physical Health of a Caregiver
Mental health and physical health often go together. A diminished level of mental health can lead to a poor outlook on life, which lowers certain chemicals your body needs to maintain a healthy balance.
Depression, stress, and anxiety can also lead to a loss of appetite. This loss of appetite starves your body of important vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.
Through surveys, it’s been reported that 11% of caregivers have claimed a decline in health throughout their careers. This decline in health is marked by several factors.
These same caregivers reported an increase in different types of physical ailments. Their immune response to certain illnesses was diminished significantly. There have also been reports of higher rates of heart disease throughout the caregiver community.
Caregiver burnout is caused when the demand for work becomes higher than they want or need to take care of themselves or their home life. Symptoms of caregiver burnout include fatigue, hopelessness, or becoming overwhelmed.
Other factors lead to caregiver burnout. One of the main factors is role confusion. Caregivers can find it hard to separate themselves from their role as a caregiver and a wife, mother, or family member.
Caregivers can also develop unrealistic expectations for the assistance they provide patients. Some care providers feel the need to save the lives of their patients. When a patient has a terminal illness and ultimately passes away, this can be devastating for the mental state of a care provider.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. With proper management and some extra attention, these symptoms can be remedied.
Tips for Protecting Your Mental Health as a Caregiver
Use one or all these tips to promote higher levels of mental health care for a caregiver.
1. Become Educated
Educate yourself on the risks involved in being a caregiver. Purchase books or instructional movies about mental health to familiarize yourself with these potential conditions.
Through education, you can become alerted to the potential warning signs and underlying causes of these issues. It’s only through education that we give ourselves a better understanding of unfamiliar medical issues.
If the situation has already progressed to a higher level, treatment may be the only option. Remedies, exercises, and possible medications may be prescribed to help deal with this stressful occupation.
Preventative treatment isn’t a bad idea. You don’t always have to wait until it’s too late to seek the help of a professional. Mental health services are available for any scope of the issue and at any level.
3. Find a Support Group
Support groups exist in almost any town or city. You can refer to your local newspaper or community center for bulletins about available support groups.
Use the internet to your advantage. Information can also be searched for online to help you locate these support groups in your area.
The internet can be more useful than just locating physical support groups. Especially since the onset of social distancing, many support groups have turned to online message boarding.
It’s possible to locate larger, online-based support groups consisting of occupational caregivers. These online support groups will probably be substantially larger and possibly offer more resources and contacts than local groups.
4. Take Time for Self-Care
Regardless of how demanding any job is, we must take time for self-care. A lack of self-care leads to a diminished physical and mental presence.
Self-care can generally be self-defined. Only you can decide on the appropriate level of self-care, and some people require higher maintenance levels than others.
Possible means of self-care can be as simple as remembering to shower and groom yourself properly. For some people, self-care can mean splurging on their favorite activities or hobbies.
Whatever means you decide on, self-care should provide an element of relief and enjoyment. If you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be in any shape to take care of anyone else.
5. Ask for Help
We should never be too ashamed or proud to ask for help. Even the best of us need a helping hand at some point or another.
Asking for help can be defined in many ways. Maybe you just need an evening off to relax in solitude. Maybe help means asking your patient's family or the agency you work for if you can take an extended leave.
Sometimes we need time away to recharge. You’d be surprised at the difference a week can make for energizing and boosting your positive mental attitude.
6. Get Proper Sleep
This tip can be severely underestimated at times. Getting proper sleep is critical for our physical and mental health.
A lack of sleep can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and stress and lower focus levels. Over time, poor sleeping patterns can also cause serious physical conditions.
Keeping a uniform schedule can help with getting the rest you need. It can be hard at times with such a hectic profession, but you must find a way to make it work.
If the lack of sleep is from an underlying medical condition, contact your doctor. Your doctor can perform tests to determine if extra treatment is needed to correct your sleeping issue.
Exercise can work wonders for our minds and body. A simple half-hour per day exercise regimen can boost your serotonin levels and lead to increases in positivity and productivity.
Exercises such as walking, running, or cycling can also benefit your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Sometimes, it’s easy to overlook the physical demands of being a caregiver because mental demands are at the forefront.
8. Find a Balance
Finding and maintaining a balance in your life is necessary regardless of the work you do. It’s unhealthy to dedicate all your time and resources to one dynamic in your life.
It may help to keep a journal or planner and write down a schedule to follow. Make sure to follow your schedule for all your non-work-related dynamics. These are just as important as your professional life.
Caregiving can be stressful and demanding, but it can also be rewarding. Sadly, the rewards you reap from the job can be quickly diminished by the clouds of stress that can quickly build up.
Follow these tips and maintain a positive balance to keep stress and depression at bay. Make time for the positive activities and hobbies you have, and be sure to maintain a healthy line of communication with family and friends.