Caregiving is a long and difficult journey that can drain the person physically and emotionally. Asking for help is not always easy, especially when you are caring for someone with a mental illness, due to the prevalent stigma and discrimination. But experts suggest that accepting help offered by anyone to give a break to your caregiving duties will help in the long run, in avoiding stress and burnout.
Caregivers who are family members of the person with mental illness face the major burden of caregiving in India. While increased financial costs, unavailability of free time, and altered social relationships are one kind of burden, the emotional hardships that the caregiver faces is the other. “Though there is a family caregiver present, it is usually one person who takes care of the person with illness,” says Dr Aarti Jagannathan, assistant professor, department of psychiatric social work, NIMHANS. For a person with serious and/or progressive mental illness such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, there are a lot of errands to take care of, such as bathing, cleaning, providing timely medication, supervising the person's health, and taking them for routine health check-ups. This long-term care can become stressful, for which the caregiver may require support from others.
The quid-pro-quo phenomenon
One of the important questions that come to the mind of a caregiver when someone offers them help is, “Why do you want to help me? Do you want something in return?” When a friend or relative approaches the caregiver to help, the caregiver may worry about having to return the favor to them. This can also put the caregiver in a state of guilt. Though there may be friends and relatives who expect a favor in return for helping the caregiver, there are others who help because they want to. At this time, a caregiver can accept help by asking them to share chores such as shopping for groceries, or running household errands, while they take care of the person.
Caring for a person with mental illness, a caregiver may feel that the society is not very accepting of the situation, due to stigma and discrimination against mental illness. To add to it, the members of their family and friends can add to the burden by:
To overcome this, instead of going into isolation, the caregiver should make sure to educate their family, friends and relatives about the loved one's illness. Once they understand about the illness, it will be easier for the caregiver to approach them for help. "Having a socially inclusive society, where the patient and their caregiver are accepted by the community, helps the caregiver ease their emotional burden to a large extent," says Dr Jagannathan.
The closer the contact that the caregiver has with the patient, the more burdened they are likely to be with their responsibility. Accepting help from your social circle will keep your life balanced and you would be able to take care of your loved one much more efficiently.
Jagannathan A. Family caregiving in India: Importance of need-based support and intervention in acute care settings. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2014 [cited 2015 Jul 15];60:355-6.