These mental difficulties, nonetheless, don’t always go away. At times, they turn into more challenging psychological and physical issues that persist over the long-term.
This underlines the importance of taking care of your own mental health as a caregiver. Your psychological well being improves your quality of life and allows you to take care of your sick loved one more efficiently.
Caregiver Mental Health Issues
The additional stresses of taking care of the friend/family member’s needs while juggling professional and personal responsibilities can create several mental health issues that caregivers have to deal with.
Between 40% and 70% of caregivers suffer from depression. This, in of itself, is a problem that can take a toll on a person’s psychological and physical health. To add to that, depression can hinder the caregiver’s ability to support their sick loved one.
Even when the ill family member or friend moves to a nursing home or a similar facility, most caregivers’ depression continues to persist.
To illustrate, here is an example: A caregiver who used to live with a loved one before they became ill may have been used to seeing them everyday. After they go to the hospital or a nursing home, their lacking presence will continue to linger and remind the caregiver of the family member or friend’s health condition.
To give another example, some caregivers may feel guilty and that they should’ve done a better job while helping the sick person. When the latter moves to a nursing home, this problem may get worse.
Depression is especially challenging because it can cause anxiety and chronic illnesses. In fact, medical ailments like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are common amongst 45% of caregivers.
Above all, depression and anxiety can evolve into substance abuse. Excessive alcohol usage is prevalent amongst one-third of people who are going through depression. This does not include those who suffer from other mental health issues, such as stress.
Caregiver Stress and Frustration
Stress is a problem that a lot of caregivers go through. Although it’s not as prevalent as depression, nearly a quarter (23%) of caregivers have higher levels of stress hormones and 16% of them are emotionally strained.
In the long-term, these issues can lead to gradual cognitive decline and memory loss.
Here are some common challenges that can cause carers to become stressed and frustrated:
- Finding the right work-to-life balance.
- Fulfilling professional responsibilities without sacrificing the needs of the sick loved one.
- Not being able to get enough sleep, especially if they have to give the ill family member or friend’s medication throughout the night.
- Worrying about money, whether it’s due to the caregiver working less hours or the sick person’s medical expenses.
As mentioned earlier, almost half of carers end up developing chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. This is because caregivers’ stress levels cause their immune system to produce 15% less antibodies that fight off diseases than the average person.
To put it another way, mental health issues can easily turn into physical problems.
The Physical Health of Caregivers
The lack of sleep, elevated stress levels, and time constraints make it difficult for caregivers to look after their own health.
To illustrate, consider the following statistics:
- Nearly three-quarters (72%) of caregivers don’t see their own doctor as much as they should.
- Almost 60% developed worse eating habits after they started looking after a sick loved one.
- About 10% witnessed their health decline or went through physical stresses.
Unfortunately, these numbers don’t make it a surprise that many caregivers will develop long-lasting medical problems.
Stress and depression, in of themselves, are directly linked to heart disease and a weakened immune system.
These issues can get even worse when combined with a lack of sleep and bad eating habits, and they could go undetected when a person doesn’t check-in with their doctor very often.
In short, a caregiver’s ability to pay attention to their own health is just as important as helping a sick family member or friend. You literally can’t have one without the other.
Tips for protecting your mental health as a caregiver
There are many ways for caregivers to take care of their mental wellbeing. This is critical because a psychologically healthy person can prevent many of the physical difficulties that stress and depression will cause.
Here are a few tips that can help you, as a caregiver, protect your mental health while you help your ill loved one:
First and foremost, you should educate yourself about the main problems that caregivers face and how you can address them based on your personal and professional circumstances.
Reading this article is a good start, but nothing is more valuable than speaking with your primary health provider. Not only can they help you stay physically and mentally well, but they may offer educational resources and advice on how to remain healthy while taking care of someone else’s medical needs.
Above all, if you are going through stress, anxiety, or depression, ask your physician to recommend a good therapist or psychologist.
Needless to say, caregivers that are going through mental health problems should seek treatment as soon as they can.
Doing so can lead to positive results, such as the following:
- A psychologically healthy caregiver can efficiently cater to their sick loved one’s needs.
- At times, certain medications will allow you to manage your sleep patterns and improve your appetite.
- Early treatment prevents psychological challenges from morphing into bigger and more difficult problems, such as substance abuse.
A therapist or psychologist can also help in other ways. For example, they may work with you on finding ways to avoid triggers that stress you out or depress you.
Sometimes, having someone who you may comfortably share your concerns with can do wonders for your psychological well being.
Find a Support Group
There are plenty of benefits to joining a caregivers’ support group. For a start, simply talking about your psychological problems can give you a sense of internal relief.
This is important because many caregivers avoid discussing negative topics with their sick loved one, which causes these feelings to bottle up and get worse.
A support group’s members may even give you valuable advice on how to cope with being a caregiver. This can be related to psychology, time management, or other challenges that many carers struggle with.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is that you can make new friends at support group meetings. However, you shouldn’t forget to focus on improving your own wellness.
Take Time for Self Care
Certain activities, like exercise and diet, have a positive impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing. You can reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses when you keep your body healthy.
Some carers feel guilty and selfish for focusing on self-care, but you should always remember that staying healthy allows you to become a better caregiver for your sick loved one.
Ask for Help
Having a family member, friend, or relative help you out can do wonders. For a start, it gives you enough time to focus on self-care and other obligations. In turn, your stress levels and anxiety will dramatically decline.
Simply put, caregivers shouldn’t be afraid to ask someone to help them prepare meals for their ill family member or friend and spend certain nights with the sick loved one.
If anything, this allows the caregiver to rest and sleep better.
Since stress and depression impact the quality of your sleep, treating your mental health issues makes you more productive. In turn, many of your other problems will go away, such as finding the right work-to-life balance.
Equally as important is that your increased productivity will undoubtedly make you a better and more efficient caregiver.
Certain exercises and foods can regulate your brain’s hormones and chemicals, which are crucial for managing stress and depression symptoms. Keeping your body active also reduces your risk of developing heart disease and other physical ailments.
Even if you have a busy schedule (which most caregivers do), taking 20 to 30 minutes per day to exercise will take you a long way.
Find a Balance
Seeing friends, spending time with family, and participating in recreational activities will keep you psychologically healthy.
In the same vein, a positive mentality undoubtedly spills over to others, including the person that you provide care to.
Not only does finding the right balance improve your relationship with your sick loved one, but their own psychological wellbeing is a central part in their fight against illness and disease.
Get paid to work as a family member of caregiver
Solving one obvious problem that can dramatically improve a caregivers’ mental health: They don’t get paid.
Resolving this issue can make it much easier for caregivers to handle most (or all) of the challenges that we discussed above.
CDPAP (the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program) is a New York State Medicaid program that allows patients to choose and pay their personal caregiver, including friends and family members.
Above all, this comes at no-cost to the patient! Sign up today and have our fiscal intermediary give personal caregivers the pay that they deserve!