September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States and is a time to inform and educate all on suicide prevention. ⠀
This blog has information on and addresses concerns with mental health, burnout, and suicide. Sandra Gilmore is a retired nurse and an experienced caregiver. In 2016, she moved in with her parents -- both in their 90s-- in their Pennsylvania home. On paper, we likely think that “nurse” as a career title made Gilmore the perfect candidate to be an unpaid family caregiver. But we also need to first recognize that “human” and ‘daughter'' are also cornerstones of her identity. In an AARP article, she makes the distinction between her professional experience and that of taking care of her parents, saying, “Nothing prepares you for this. It's a whole different ball game. It's like steadily going down a dead-end street.”
During the coronavirus spread and lockdowns, caregivers like Gilmore were increasingly isolated from respite and counseling care.
Caregiver isolation and financial, emotional, and physical stresses heightened during the pandemic. These compound situations may have contributed to a rise in caregiver substance abuse and suicidal thoughts (ideation) in 2020. The research reveals a significant prevalence of suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and stress among unpaid caregivers. In a 2020 study, the CDC reported that 30% of unpaid family caregivers surveyed had considered suicide in the previous month.
In honor of September as Suicide Prevention Month in the US, we want to talk openly about feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and change the response from turning further inward and alone to one of reaching out for support.
Bring the Topic of SUICIDE Into the Light
We talk about caregiver burnout in general terms, but frequently do not discuss the deep emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that is coupled with feelings of helplessness. From CEOs to Olympic athletes dialogue on mental health and self-care has become more elevated and heard partially due to our collective Pandemic reality.
Caregiving for a loved one can cause burnout to some degree. Regrettably, in many cases, the end result of all the caregiving effort and fight is the death of someone you love and who loved you in return. We sympathize and know this can be devastating.
How do we get a handle on stress and feelings and protect ourselves from caregiver burnout? As with many emotional concerns, the first step is awareness. It’s not easy to admit that you are feeling helpless, depleted, and exhausted BUT it is vital to your wellbeing. The conversations may be awkward to start, but, for the sake of your health, we feel compelled to bring this specific issue into the light.
At Caregiven, we talk openly about the helpless feelings in caregiving and make it part of our culture to be conversant and comfortable with being uncomfortable on emotional, tough topics.
FAMILY Caregivers in the Time of COVID
With vaccines for COVID-19 delivered swiftly and the desired push to “get back to normal” economically and socially, it is tempting to rush past the impact the pandemic has on our collective mental health.
Most of us can identify with the heightened sense of anxiety, some depression, brain fog, and fear in response to the ongoing pandemic. If you are an informal caregiver of a vulnerable person in the pandemic, you've been tested in a unique way. AARP estimated that, in 2020, more than 50 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for a family member.
Normalizing Mental Health Struggles
Many people deal with some form of mental health challenges on a daily basis. These are psychological issues and people facing them still face a stigma because they seldom manifest outwardly the way physical illness can. This is one of the reasons mental health is called an “invisible disease.” Stigma shames people into silence and prevents them from seeking help." - NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Suicide needs empathy as well as human level and textbook level understanding.
Almost 1 out of 3 Americans reported having to go to work, raise children, and get through each day during a pandemic while also in the grips of a depressive phase. Over 40% reported to a consumer survey published in Statista that, in the last year, they experienced anxiety (see image below).
Another report from the CDC, as reported by NPR, found that “people who care for both children under 18 and adults — many of them part of the sandwich generation — are faring the worst, with 85% of this group experiencing adverse mental health symptoms.”
What Can Caregivers Do For Self Care:
Support systems help us through the darkest times. Reach out to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or a professional counselor for support to give you the opportunity to find perspective. Brené Brown’s research says that “Vulnerability is not weakness.” Talk.
I have a friend who shared with me some advice they got in a counseling session. They were advised to take time before getting to their loved one’s house to visualize possible trigger scenarios while caregiving that day. They fully visualized their emotions in each scenario and how they thought they could react during their commute. This exercise made them feel much better prepared, in control, and able to deal with emotions that can well up in day-to-day situations.
Even if it is a brisk walk, standing up and sitting down in a chair 10 times in a row, dancing in your chair… movement can make you feel present.
Medication helps and is consideration after speaking with a professional. We are human, and seeing someone suffer pain, chronic health conditions, and limitations takes a toll on any compassionate soul. Pay attention to your feelings, emotions, sleep, level of energy, or lack thereof, and accept support.
Resources and Tools:
Support - If you or someone you know is a caregiver, sandwich caregiver, or a friend of a caregiver, be kind, available, and supportive.
Learn some warning signs, risk factors, and ways to support people who may be struggling with mental health issues, see this list.
Seek immediate help for those at risk.
If you live in the US and are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for free and confidential support. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For Spanish, call 888-628-9454.
The Crisis Text Line also provides a live, trained crisis counselor via a simple text for help. If you are in the US or Canada, text 741741. If you are in the UK, text 85258.
We see you, caregivers. We are you.
This blog is to support awareness of a very real issue. The content is informational only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.