Caregivers for the Emotionally & Mentally Ill: “Thank You!”

“I love her, I swear I do. But I can’t take it anymore, and I feel so guilty about it. I’m falling apart at the seams.”

Caregiver stress for those assisting the elderly has deservedly received huge headlines. But what about the plight of those who care for the emotionally or mentally ill? In many ways the work is more heart and gut-wrenching.

Over-the-top stress, self-blame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are potential problems for those caring for the emotionally and mentally ill.

Kudos to all of you!

I have a two-part series for you. Today we’re going to look at a brand-new study, and chat some facts – tomorrow we’ll review some help tips and resources.

Let’s get busy!

An Important Study

A very important study was published in the May edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The work was done by a team from Concordia University, AMI-Quebec and the University of British Columbia. According to lead author Carsten Wrosch…

“Being the principal caregiver to a mentally ill family member is a stressor that often creates high levels of burden and contributes to depressive symptoms.”

“Caring for a relative with a mental illness can be strenuous – such caregivers can even be more burdened than caregivers of dementia patients. That said, even in this situation, caregivers can experience high levels of well-being if they adjust their goals and use effective coping strategies.”

The Setup

The team secured 121 people to complete the study. Most were right at 60-years-old and had provided care for a relative for an average of 16 years. The participants were followed for 17 months. More details…

  • 78 percent of the caregivers were women, 22 percent men
  • 57 percent had received an undergraduate degree or higher
  • 73 per cent were married or co-habitating with a partner
  • 41 per cent had relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia
  • 37 per cent had relatives diagnosed with a mood disorder
  • 22 per cent had relatives diagnosed with other mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The Expectation and Results

The expectation of the study team – caregivers who are capable of flexibility with important life-goals (career, education, leisure, relationships, etc.) would have an easier time managing caregiver stress. That being the case, they’d be able to maintain their emotional well-being.

That’s exactly what they found. The willingness and ability to be flexible with life-goals protected the caregivers from depressive symptoms. And that reduced the potential for relying upon self-blame and substances to endure their circumstances.

The study also found that caregivers who over-extended themselves – attempting to take on new life-goals – showed increased levels of stress.

So think about it – it’s a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t scenario. It would only make sense that some measure of personal expansion/diversion would help one manage a stressful situation.

But in this case, doing so actually makes matters worse.

Caregivers Are Extraordinary People

I’ve worked with caregivers for the emotionally and mentally ill in a clinical setting. I know and respect their sacrifice, dedication, and love.

It’s up to all of us to do anything we can to recognize these extraordinary people – and in some manner provide assistance and relief.

That said, I invite you to come back tomorrow. We’ll take a look at caregiver-assistance tips and resources.