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.