Although caregiving is a uniquely rewarding experience, it is also a mentally and physically demanding job. Without proper support, it can take a toll on your health and your psyche. Burnout is a family caregiver’s worst enemy, but mental health resources like counseling can help you provide high-quality care and achieve emotional stability.
The Dangers of Caregiver Burnout
Many family members go through periods of sadness and frustration while caring for a loved one. These are normal human responses to the challenges of the situation, and these feelings do not in any way indicate failure or inadequacy in the provision of care. However, a damaging emotional cycle begins when guilt and anxiety develop over these feelings. Caregivers pour their hearts and souls into their loved ones’ care, and the stress of this commitment can have unintended emotional consequences.
When asked about telltale signs of caregiver burnout, Shawn Hertz of the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center says resentment is a common indicator.
“There are quite a few red flags for burnout, including medical, physical, psychological and social symptoms,” Hertz points out. “That’s the important thing to remember about caregiver stress: it doesn’t just affect one aspect of your life. It affects all the major aspects of life that make you a whole person.”
Being proactive about minimizing your burden and learning how to handle stress in a healthy way is crucial for succeeding as a caregiver.
Why Caregiver Counseling Is a Necessity
The responsibility of caring for a senior’s constant needs can cause caregivers to feel trapped in their role. Frustration can quickly grow into anger, resentment and depression when left unchecked. The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that nearly 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression. For reference, the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 7.1 percent of American adults experienced at least one major depressive episode.
For dementia caregivers, the prevalence of mental health disorders is even higher. One study of mental health issues in those caring for Alzheimer’s patients found that the prevalence of depression was 34 percent, anxiety was 43.6 percent and the use of psychotropic drugs was 27.2 percent.
Not all caregivers experience depression, anxiety or feelings of inadequacy, but for those who do, learning how to understand and address those feelings is one of the greatest benefits of counseling. The National Institute on Aging suggests that caregivers find someone they can talk with and truly vent to without judgment. Being able to confide in someone often helps to head off feelings of isolation and powerlessness in overwhelmed caregivers. Those who receive regular emotional support are better equipped to prevent burnout, handle difficult care decisions and balance their own needs with those of their loved ones.
Caregiver Counseling Options and Opportunities
Caregivers can receive emotional support from professional therapists, in-person and online support groups, and one-on-one discussions with friends and family. Skilled therapists can help you process your feelings, learn to set boundaries, strengthen your problem-solving abilities, and improve communication with your care recipient and other family members. Other forms of counseling may be provided by professional care organizations as well. For example, hospice providers often offer specialized grief counselling for a patient's family members.
If you decide that talking with a professional is the way to go, check with your health insurance company for a list of providers that are covered under your plan. For those who cannot afford counseling, talking with an understanding friend or family member and joining a support group are two free ways of getting vital encouragement, information and advice. Mental health services are also available on a sliding fee scale through government-funded community health centers. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about additional resources in your community that can help you care for your loved one and yourself.
Sources: Caregiver Depression: A Silent Health Crisis (https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-depression-silent-health-crisis); Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders Among Caregivers of Patients With Alzheimer Disease (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2015.09.007); Taking Care of Yourself: Tips for Caregivers (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers)