September is Suicide Prevention Month and it’s a great time to talk about an issue that can impact the Mental Health Family Caregiver Community.
Suicide is a real issue and for many people a very private one. No one want to speak openly about thoughts of suicide, but at some point may have struggled with the issue.
As Caregivers we may at some time face the challenge of a Loved One who is suicidal or has attempted suicide, what’s also a possibility is that we at one time or another may have ourselves felt suicidal.
The reality is it’s not uncommon, especially amongst Caregivers of Loved Ones with severe Mental Illness and other degenerative Long Term illnesses.
An article “A Physicians View of Caregiver Health-Archive” on Caregiver.org explains the impact on us caregivers. I identified with all of it. Here is some of what the Doctor shared(there is also a link below if you would like to read the whole of it):
The Effects of Caregiving on Caregiver Health
There is now a large and growing body of evidence that confirms that caring for a physically or mentally chronically sick person can have dire consequences for the caregiver.
Caregiver health is becoming a public health issue, as the numbers of caregivers grow and the average duration of caregiving is four years. In many cases, even longer.
Health effects can be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of all three:
Compared with noncaregivers, caregivers suffer from:
Diminished immune responses, which means more frequent infection and increased risk of cancers
Slower wound healing
Higher incidence of hospitalization
Higher mortality rate
Poorer general health
Higher incidence of headaches, gastro-intestinal problems and insomnia
An increased risk of heart disease.
Compared with noncaregivers, the following occur more often in caregivers:
Depression and anxiety disorders, and these can persist, even after the death of the patient or placement in a nursing home—guilt often adding to this sad picture.
Whenever we say “depression” the next thought must be “is suicide far behind?” and yes, there is a higher incidence of suicide among caregivers.
Alcohol and other substance use—this has serious implications for driving and operating machinery as well as damage to health.
Emotional exhaustion and caregiver stress is real and debilitating. Among signs of caregiver stress are anger at self and the patient; social withdrawal from friends and activities previously enjoyed; irritability leading to moodiness; negative thoughts and reactions; inability to concentrate; and errors at work—the wage-earning caregiver cannot afford this.
There is evidence now that emotional stress adversely affects longevity—this goes with the higher risk of mortality I have mentioned above.
Physical, mental and emotional damage, or a combination of all three? What a gloomy picture! But is it always like this? Does it need to be like this? I am happy to say the answer is “No!” it needn’t be like this.
We can change it, ladies and gentlemen. Sick caregivers cannot effectively look after chronically sick patients so we must find ways to keep caregivers healthy. How might we do this? As well as the studies supporting the adverse effects on health I have described above, there are other studies that make it abundantly clear that access to a good social support network—family and friends, community resources, religious groups, volunteers—and respite care have a strongly positive effect on the mental, physical and emotional health of the caregiver.
Mental illness in seniors under-diagnosed
Facts about mental illness in the elderly You might not be surprised to read that the most common mental health issue among the elderly is severe cognitive impairment or dementia. Depression and mood disorders are also fairly widespread among older adults, and disturbingly, they often go undiagnosed and untreated. In a 2006 survey, 5% of seniors 65 and older reported having current depression, and about 10.5% reported a diagnosis of depression at some point in their lives (CDC). Often going along with depression in many individuals, anxiety is also one of the more prevalent mental health problems among the elderly. Anxiety disorders encompass a range of issues, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (including hoarding syndrome) to phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About 7.6% of those over 65 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, reports the CDC. Causes and Risk Factors for Senior Mental Illness One of the ongoing problem with diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in seniors is the fact that older adults are more likely to report physical symptoms than psychiatric complaints (CDC).The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation lists a number of potential triggers for mental illness in the elderly: Physical disability Long-term illness (e.g., heart disease or cancer) Dementia-causing illness (e.g. Alzheimer's disease) Physical illnesses that can affect thought, memory, and emotion (e.g. thyroid or adrenal disease) Change of environment, like moving into assisted living Illness or loss of a loved one Medication interactions Alcohol or substance abuse Poor diet or malnutrition http://www.kristv.com/story/37806684/mental-illness-in-seniors-under-diagnosed
"...Families coping with severe cerebral palsy or dementia don't have to deal with professionals and academics who aren't sure that the disorders exist. Funded organizations designed to help with these disorders can focus on increasing access to the best treatments. Schizophrenia and many mental illnesses, however, are highly politicized conditions. Academics in Mad Studies , for example, argue that mental illnesses aren't real and that people "labelled" with these disorders are just experiencing intense forms of normal human distress. Key figures in this field advocate for the abolition of psychiatry . The families I know have relied on contemporary psychiatry to help their family members escape the agony of the psychotic part of their illness..." https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/susan-inman/schizophrenia-caregivers-education_a_23402045/