Overcoming Caregiver Burnout

Mental illness carries its share of anguish. It comes in many forms: Fear stemming from the realization one’s mind is sick. Outbursts triggered by that fear plus the confusion it brings. Strained relationships caused by the effects of a disorder. Trouble maintaining a job. Social solitude. Neglected physical health. Take one, take all, take any combination. Mental illness can impair life in countless ways.

It’s important, however, to remember one key factor in all this: the caregiver. How does all this affect them? Are they handling the challenge gracefully? Is their mental health ok?

A loved one suffering from mental illness may require a little (or more) assistance. Sometimes a disorder is mild and the patient mostly looks after themselves. Other times it is severe and they require near constant supervision. Either way the responsibilities of the caregiver are manifold. Therapy, medication, supervision, diet, activities for wellbeing – all these measures should be included on a caretaker’s treatment list.

With so many items on a caregiver’s plate they may be exposed to unsettling ordeals. Unaddressed, this harms both them and the patient. If a caregiver is beset by turmoil it will likely disrupt their caregiving.

Well what about a trained professional? Realistically, most people can’t afford around-the-clock assistance from someone experienced in such work.

Below are a few common difficulties faced by caregiving families/friends, and some suggestions to overcome them:

Seeing loved ones in pain. Without much description, it’s obvious why this can be a serious consequence of caregiving. Watching a friend or family member suffer the challenges of mental illness can cause great despair and add immeasurable stress to one’s life. Setting aside time for decompression is important, allowing the caregiver to effectively recharge. Perhaps a daily exercise regimen or 10-minute mindfulness practice is useful. Others may enjoy throwing on Metallica and rocking out – whatever your method, this “me” time is hardly selfish. More like “self caring.”

Disrupting work. This problem can be difficult. It can seem like the caregiver is being asked to weigh their livelihood versus their loved one’s wellbeing. The truth is, it’s a problem vital to solve. How can one give effective care if they don’t have the funds to survive? This is where asking for help might become necessary. Maybe there is someone else close to the patient that could take over during work hours. If the funds are sufficient, perhaps part time professional assistance can be arranged.

Disrupting relationships. It can’t be easy in a relationship – romantic or friendly – while caregiving for a mentally ill loved one. The same goes for dating/hanging out with someone who is a caregiver. In these cases healthy communication between parties can foster understanding and tolerance. Faux pas such as missed plans are handled smoother when honesty and kindness are at the forefront of communication.

Family issues. Certain issues can arise when care is handled within the family structure. From treatment options to strained family dynamics, conflicts are often agitated by a variety of potential stressors. Once again honest and kind dialogue smoothes some of these conflicts, easing the burden of drama. The result is a family working in unity, making tasks easier and more effective. In cases where problems can not be resolved at home a family therapist might be necessary.

Caregiver Burnout The job of caregiving can be immersive. With all the stress, drama, trauma, responsibility, and more, a caregiver can neglect themselves. They might feel guilty about helping themselves instead of the sufferer. Sometimes they overextend, taking on more than they can handle. Regardless of the cause they can develop when is called “caregiver burnout,” which according to WebMD includes “fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.” In these cases it is important for the caregiver to seek professional help at the soonest possible time. Succumbing to mental health problems while in service to patients is avoidable with the right preventative measures.

At the end of the day, if caregiving is causing you to suffer in any part of life the best bet is professional help. A good psychologist or psychiatrist will be familiar with the usual strains and burdens felt by caregivers/families and will be able to guide them through this difficult process. They are also the most able to assess the mental health of caregivers.

If you or someone you know is having a hard time administering care to a mentally ill loved one, here are some resources that might help:

Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Family-to-Family: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Family-to-Family

NAMI Family Support Group: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Family-Support-Group

MentalHealth.gov page for parents and caregivers: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers

References:

American Psychological Association. Common Caregiving Problems. Retrieved on February 3, 2018 from https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/common-problems/index.aspx

Beckerman, James (2018, June) Recognizing Caregiver Burnout. WebMD. Retrieved on February 4, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/caregiver-recognizing-burnout#3-5