Day in and day out, more than 65 million family caregivers in this country provide care for family and friends in need. Those who are caregivers for family members or friends with mental illnesses need support and encouragement just as those caring for loved ones with other illnesses. Caregivers tend to be selfless, and expect a lot of themselves without recognizing their own need for self-care. Studies have found that caregivers have higher levels of depression and stress than non-caregivers. Sometimes caregivers are so committed to helping others that they forget to take care of themselves. They fail to recognize that if they drive themselves to exhaustion or sickness, they may not be able to help at all.
November is National Family Caregivers Month offering an opportunity to raise awareness of family caregiver issues; celebrate the efforts of family caregivers; and increase support for family caregivers.
Studies have found that caregivers have higher levels of depression and stress than non-caregivers. Women caregivers are particularly at risk for increased stress, anxiety, exhaustion, depression, reduced immune response and poor physical health. The more time spent care giving the greater the risk. Sometimes caregivers are so committed to helping others that they forget to take care of themselves. More than one-third of caregivers provide continuing care to others even while in poor health themselves according to recent research.
Warning signs of caregiver burnout from the non-profit Helpguide.org include:
- You have much less energy than you used to
It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
- Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless
Key strategies to prevent burnout include getting the help you need, seeking emotional support, and taking time out to care for yourself.
Strategies for Caregivers:
- Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
- Attend to your own healthcare needs.
- Get proper rest and nutrition.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take time off without feeling guilty.
- Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
- Seek and accept the support of others.
- Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor or friend.
- Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
- Set goals.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a grassroots organization that was started in 1979. One special program they offer for family members is called Family-to-Family. The
is a free 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses. NAMI recognizes that family members of people with serious mental illnesses need information and support to cope with the considerable stresses they experience.
The Family to Family Education Program is a structured, peer-led, 12-week information and support self-help class for such individuals. Research shows reduced subjective burden and increased empowerment among graduates. Family-to-Family classes are offered in hundreds of communities across the country. You can find more information on this program as well as many other resources available in your area by visiting NAMI online at www.nami.org. There you can find a support group, connect online in NAMI's discussion groups, contact your state or local NAMI and more.
Caring Every Day messages from the National Family Caregivers Association:
Believe in Yourself.
Protect Your Health.
Reach Out for Help.
Speak Up for Your Rights.
National Family Caregivers Association www.thefamilycaregiver.org
National Alliance for Caregiving www.caregiving.org
Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov (a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that connects users to state and local resources)