When someone struggles through a mental illness, the hard work that comes with moving towards recovery is undeniable.
Days spent with doctors, counsellors or specialists. Hours spent practicing new self-care techniques, even changes to sleep, diet and exercises regiments. All are a testament to the work that is required to maintain good mental health.
While we could never downplay the efforts of someone in recovery, sometimes we forget a big factor; a major cog in the wheel that moves us towards recovery — the caregiver.
It’s the mother or father, the family friend or neighbour. It’s that one person that is there to provide support through good times and bad. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a 2002 national survey found that nearly two percent (or almost 500,000 Canadians) are acting as caregivers for a family member struggling with mental illness.
Of those, 47 per cent have provided that care for more than five years. Acting as a caregiver can be, at times, an underappreciated role, even though recent studies show that mental health caregivers in Canada save our health care system an estimated $12.3 billion (that’s right, billion) per year. The reasons are simple. The caregiver is the person there to help when others are unable.
Acting as a caregiver can significantly impact someone’s mental health. “Caregiver burnout” is a harsh reality for a lot of family members in Canada. When a caregiver doesn’t receive their own adequate support, or feels failed by a system that they perceive hasn’t been able to help their loved one, they can start to feel abandoned.
It’s almost a sense of defeat, where it feels as if every last effort had been made in vain. In the simplest ways our bodies run like cars and far too often caregivers end up running out of fuel.
While caregiver burnout can happen to anyone, there are several ways to alleviate this potential debilitating condition. There are three key steps experts recommend to any caregiver supporting a loved one with mental illness; reach out, educate yourself and practice self-care.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Many caregivers can start to feel isolated or alone, like no one else has ever experienced what they’re going through. Connecting with professionals, mental health supports or peers can help to remove that feeling of isolation.
With reaching out can come education and understanding. Learn more about what your loved one may be experiencing, take courses, or read books. It can be empowering to build on your personal knowledge to become better informed on how to best provide support. Lastly, practice self-care.
The role of a caregiver can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Find time to do the small things that help you feel better. Maybe it’s phoning a friend, watching a movie or heading out for a walk. Small things that can help your brain recharge.
For all caregivers in the City of Kawartha Lakes, there are professional resources that can be accessed for free. The Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Branch has a support service called “Journeying Together.”
This program is solely dedicated to supporting the caregiver and their wellness. Through one-to-one or even group supports, caregivers learn new ways to care for themselves and others.
The journey towards recovery can be a long a bumpy ride. Caregivers need to be sure to keep part of that journey, focused on their health too.