Mental Health: Who Takes Care Of The Caregivers Of Chronically Ill Patients?

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Talking care of a parent. Image from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/options-want-stay-home-age

In the last few weeks, the topic of cancer has once again become a major talking issue in our country. Even though the topic has been revived by the untimely passing of key figures like Bob Collymore or Ken Okoth who have fallen victim to this disease, its existence has always, and will likely continue being problematic to millions of people around the world.

Cancer, like many other chronic illnesses, demands so much from the victims and those that surround them. When we talk about these conditions, we often discuss them from the victims’ point of view. Rarely do we interrogate the struggles and hardships that their carers have to contend with. Health: Challenges Faced By Cancer Patient And Their Families

Most Kenyan families with a sickly member cannot afford paid for care. Life is already too expensive as it is, adding more costs to pay a nurse or a professional carer is usually an issue that is out of the question. The physical and emotional demands of caring for someone who has a mental illness, disability, recovering from an accident or illness, or an older person can be high.

Talking care of a parent. Image from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/options-want-stay-home-age

In most cases, the challenge of caregiving is usually a long term one. Spending lots of time caring for an individual can contribute to isolation and being detached from friends and activities that are imperative to a person’s well being. Carers often dedicate considerable amounts of their time looking after their loved ones. While this might be selfless and admirable, the impact of neglecting their own wellbeing is likely to be detrimental to how well they can live functional lives.

For individuals with permanent health issues that are likely to span through their entire lives, carers spend decades attending to their needs while putting their own on the back seat. It can be particularly heartbreaking when the carer gives all they have yet there’s no hope that their loved one will ever get better. Despite all efforts, their conditions might still continue to deteriorate. As somebody how has a long term disability I know I will need care for a long time and I have come to appreciate that it is a sacrifice that these carers make to make sure our lives run smoothly. From Stairs To Ramps: The Beginning – The Accident That Changed My Life

The emotional burdens related to caregiving are likely to cause a vulnerability that might lead to graver issues such as stress, depression, anxiety and feelings of guilt. It is common for carers to feel responsible for every challenge that their loved one might experience under their care. For instance, a carer might blame themselves if their loved one caught a cold, they would question their abilities and experience feelings of guilt even if it was not their fault.

Continued feelings of stress, guilt and anxiety cause the carer to be in a state of emotional burnout. At this point, they are no longer useful to themselves nor their loved ones. They experience resentment to those they care for and no longer find joy in helping them with their daily needs. This is as a result of prolonged fatigue, spending long hours without sleep or food. Caregivers tend to be more impatient and irritable, they are hopeless and less driven because they got too overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving and forgot to take care of themselves.

As a society, we also don’t help the situation when we quickly judge or criticize a carers ability to look after their loved ones. We rarely take into account the physical and emotional stress that is involved in caregiving. We get unfairly critical of them when they mention a need for some alone time. It is my opinion that caregivers should also be put in the conversation of health improvement. Their well being is just as important as that of those they care for. If you have a family member or friend who is a caregiver you can share with them these tips on how to avoid burnout – 7 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout That Really Work.

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