Supporting a loved one with a mental illness can be utterly exhausting, and it may also be the only thing keeping the mentally ill family member or friend at home instead of in a hospital. Being the go-to person for someone who is in desperate need of support, advocating for them, and ensuring they stay safe can be a full-time job all by itself.
Informal (unpaid) support people who are caregivers may also be employed full-time, raising children, or caring for elders at the same time. It is of critical importance that a caregiver get their own needs met, so that they are able to continue caring for others.
Taking Care of the Caregiver
If you are a caregiver for people who have mental health concerns, you can help keep yourself from burning out by doing the following:
- Exercising regularly.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Monitoring what enters your body – Avoid alcohol, drugs and unhealthy foods.
- Connecting with your own support group – The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has classes and support groups for loved ones who are supporting a family member or friend with a mental illness. This can be a great way to meet other people and learn their strategies for supporting someone who is working on their mental health.
- Taking time for yourself – Whether you spend that time on a hobby, a nap, a hike, or lunch with friends, you need to have time to recharge your emotional batteries.
- Enlisting others to help support your loved one – NAMI has a number of resources that can support a person who is fighting mental illness. These include support groups and message boards. People with mental health diagnoses can also often benefit from having a professional treatment team that includes a therapist and medication manager, and possibly a case manager. Don’t try to do it all by yourself.
There’s a Hotline for That
While there are several hotlines for people suffering from mental health disorders, these hotlines are also available for caregivers. Parents Magazine shared the following hotlines on their website:
- NAMI – 800-950-6264
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
- Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – 800-656-4673
- Veterans Crisis Line – 800-273-8255 and then press 1
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-799-7233
Caregivers: Signs of Stress
An informal caregiver may also be cramming their heads full of information that doctors, therapists, nurses, and other professionals spend years learning in school and on the job. This only adds to the level of exhaustion. NAMI recommends that caregivers watch themselves and each other for signs that they are getting overwhelmed, which may include:
- Decreased energy
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Muscle pain or tenseness
The Mayo Clinic identified numerous risk factors that align with increased likelihood of caregivers becoming fatigued by their caregiving duties. These include:
- Not having a choice in becoming a caregiver
- Feeling socially isolated
- Having depression
- Financial struggles
- High number of hours spent caregiving
- Living with the person being cared for
Getting a Break
If you are caring for a person who needs constant care, ask for help. Sometimes individuals with mental health conditions are eligible for respite, meaning their health insurance will pay for the cost of an alternate caregiver. They may also qualify to utilize a day program or to stay in a short-term nursing facility while their mental health is being stabilized.
Why It Matters
As with other types of burnout, a caregiver with burnout can become less capable of doing the job before them. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), caregivers who are burned out may experience:
- Lack of empathy
- Decreased patience with the person they are looking after
- Heightened anxiety/depression
- Lowered immune system response
Caregivers who are burned out are also more likely to resort to abusive techniques when they become frustrated.
If you are a caregiver who is concerned that you may be becoming burned out, it is important to reach out for help, whether through a hotline, a good friend, or to a professional therapist, right away. Highland Hospital specializes in behavioral health treatment for children, adolescents, and adults. If you or someone you love needs help with mental health issues, contact us today to speak with one of our caring admissions specialists.