Caregiver Mental Health
Most times, we only think about the needs of care recipients. But we rarely stop to think about the mental health of the caregivers. As a caregiver, you are subject to long hours and psychological pressures of managing the health and wellbeing of someone else.
This is particularly true for CDPAP caregivers who may be dealing with a client who is dear to them. The patient could be their family member or friend. In this article, we look at the mental health issues affecting caregivers and how you can protect yourself from them.
Below are some common mental health issues caregivers encounter.
Caregiver Mental Health Issues
Your caregiving workplaces you at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression. Therefore, all caregivers ought to be screened for these disorders.
Depression is a major mental health problem that affects many caregivers. In fact, the depression statistics are higher among caregivers compared to the general population. Studies reveal that about 40% to 70% of caregivers are depressed. Research has also revealed that this problem is especially rampant among young caregivers.
Depression limits your ability to give the best care to your loved one. It's closely related to anxiety, so if you're depressed, then you're more likely to suffer anxiety as well. This may be accompanied by substance abuse and chronic illness.
Among the reasons behind caregiver depression includes not having anyone whom you can confide in about the challenges arising from caring for someone with physical or cognitive conditions. Another reason behind your depression could be if the client you're caring for is also suffering from depression.
Caregiver Stress and Frustration
Caregiver stress is linked to the physical and emotional stress that you experience when caring for a dependent person. Research shows that 16% of caregivers are grappling with emotional stress.
As a caregiver, you're more vulnerable to higher stress levels. This is because you're 'on call' most of your time. This means having little time off work to socialize with your friends or engage in other recreational activities. These recreational activities help alleviate stress.
So you're likely to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. You may even end up channeling this anger to the care recipient.
Besides the stress of caregiving, you may also be facing other grave life stresses. This may mean daily worries like the inability to pay your bills due to financial difficulties and difficulties in raising kids or managing your spousal relationship. All these exacerbate your caregiver stress.
Some of the risk factors that make you feel stressed and frustrated include:
· Social isolation
· Living with the client you're caring for
· Financial challenges
· Spending long hours doing caregiver work
· Poor coping skills
· Being a caregiver for lack of choice, not as a calling
As a caregiver, here are some of the stress signs you should watch out for:
· Feeling constantly anxious or overwhelmed
· Frequently feeling exhausted
· Lack of sleep or oversleeping
· Losing or gaining weight
· Becoming short-tempered
· Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
· Feelings of sadness or loneliness
· Experiencing constant headaches, muscle or joint pain, among other physical challenges
· Substance abuse, including prescription medications
· Cognitive decline and memory loss
· Medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease
Physical Health of a Caregiver
According to 11% of caregivers, their health has deteriorated over time. The physical demands linked to caregiving can take a toll on your physical health. This is especially true when the tasks include lifting heavy house items or helping the care recipient with mobility.
You may also end up not having enough sleep because the sleep-wake cycle of your elderly loved one is mixed up. Lack of enough sleep can affect your health as well.
When your caregiving role leaves you distressed and depressed, it may translate to negative effects on your health. You're likely to experience:
· Increased incident of physical ailments
· Poor immune response
· Heart disease complications
Let’s take a look at how caregiving sometimes has health consequences specifically for women.
Health Consequences for Women Caregivers
The caregiving demographics might be slowly changing with men stepping up to provide care for elderly loved ones. Yet, women still account for the majority of family caregivers. National estimates reveal that two-thirds of all unpaid caregivers are women.
Women are more likely to offer personal care, dedicate more hours of caregiving each week, and engage in more caregiving tasks compared to men.
The prevalence of health complications among female caregivers is possibly because women typically receive no acknowledgment for their caring duties. The societal attitude is that women have an in-born caring nature. So it is their responsibility to care for family members who are sick or elderly.
While providing care to a loved one is stressful for either gender, evidence shows female caregivers are increasingly strained by these experiences. This means they are more distressed and anxious than their male counterparts. They also report declined physical health and lower levels of life satisfaction.
According to a particular study, women who provide 36 or more hours of spousal care per week are more vulnerable to developing psychological health problems. National research on caregivers reveals that spousal caregivers offer more hours of care compared to other types of caregivers. Often, spousal caregivers live with the care recipient and are likely to be the only providers of care to their partners.
Moreover, in a national study on caregiver health, mammography screening was lower in 21% of the female caregivers surveyed. This is because the burden of caregiving eats up time for other activities. Mammography screening is associated with early detection and a lower risk of mortality from breast cancer.
Clearly, being a caregiver can have significant effects on one’s mental and physical health. The sections below outline why maintaining good mental health is crucial for caregivers.
Why is it Important for a Caregiver to Have Good Mental Health?
Your mental health as a caregiver is importance because of the following reasons:
· There's an interconnection between your mental and physical health. This means poor mental health elevates the risk of developing chronic physical conditions like high blood pressure, heart ailments, lethargy, and vice versa.
· Lower quality of life is linked to major mental problems, such as schizophrenia and depression. It increases the risk of functional impairment, contributing to work impairment with associated personal, societal, and financial burdens.
· Care recipients are at high risk of suffering abuse from caregivers who are experiencing mental health problems. So good mental health allows you to offer the best care possible to your loved one or client.
· There's a propensity to turn to drug and substance abuse if you're suffering from depression or other mental issues.
Now that you know the importance of taking care of one’s mental health as a caregiver, below are some useful tips for doing so.
Tips for Protecting Your Mental Health as a Caregiver
Your caregiving work exerts physical and psychological pressures on you. This means you have to make your mental wellness a top priority. To do so, here are some of the measures you can adopt:
Learning about the symptoms of poor mental health is important so that you can adopt intervention measures before the situation gets worse. You will also learn coping skills to deal with stressful situations.
If you're feeling some emotional strain, seek treatment by talking to your doctor, a clergy person, or a counselor. These are trained persons and can offer help. Even when you don’t feel sick, consider going for regular checkups. This may include health screenings and tests and medical advice.
Caregivers with strong social connections are usually healthier compared to those who don't have a support network. This is why you should look for activities where you can meet new people, such as a support group.
Looking after your body can improve your mental health. Some of the most important self-care practices include:
· Eating nutritious meals
· Drinking plenty of water
· Avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. These substances may seem to provide relief, but only for a short period. They can damage your health if used frequently and in excess.
Ask for Help
Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. Getting appropriate care will lead to faster recovery and, ultimately, a rewarding life.
Get Some Sleep
Sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of depression. If you are not sleeping well, take frequent naps when your loved one is sleeping. Don't use energy drinks to deal with fatigue. Rest is the perfect way to recharge.
Consider exercising for 30 to 60 minutes at least three times a week. Exercise will give you energy and improve your moods. Tag along with your loved ones if they are capable.
Find a Balance
You have to create a balance between your caregiving role and other meaningful life activities. This means taking time off and asking others to step in regularly. This includes friends, family members, church members, and short-term caregivers.
Like it or not, caregiving is a stressful job. By adopting good coping skills, you can stay positive despite the psychological pressures. Relaxation exercises can improve your frame of mind and general life outlook.
You should also smile more often and see the funny side of life. Research reveals that laughter can improve your immune system, alleviate pain and stress, and relax your body.
The Bottom Line
Your mental health as a caregiver is important because it is tied to your physical health. It also affects the quality of care you provide to your loved one. The above-mentioned measures will help you safeguard your mental wellness.