Spare a Thought for Caregivers this Christmas
As this is my last post for 2012 I thought I’d focus on the silent millions who, every day and sometimes for years on end, dedicate their time to caring for loved ones, and the price that many end up paying as a result.
Caregiving is a function that most of us have at least some experience of. Even at its most basic level, say looking after a child with flu, it quickly becomes clear how much thought, time, energy and disruption this can cause. It’s a fact of life however and most people accept the role and are happy to help. But there are legions of people who spend most if not all of their time looking after the needs of others in their own home. If they are lucky, friends, relatives and health workers, will support them, if not the outlook for the caregiver is bleak.
During the last couple of years of his life my father-in-law lived with us. He became increasingly dependent, to the point where my wife and I were giving 24-hour care. Because of his mental and physical state, his sleep pattern was disrupted. He was agitated, depressed, confused, tearful, and he could hallucinate as a result of his medication. It was, without any shred of doubt, one of the most emotionally draining and exhausting periods of my life. I find it so hard to imagine how a single person might cope in similar circumstances, yet many do.
In her post on Caregivers and Depression, Deborah Serani, a psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in depression, points out that an estimated 29% of the United States population (65 million people) are caregivers at any one time. An even more sobering statistic from The National Family Caregiving Association, is that 61% of caregivers providing at least 20 hours of care during the week suffered from depression.
When people find themselves in the role of full-time caregiver a number of things change. Their needs come second to the person needing help. Their lives change as activities and interests dwindle or stop, as do their friendships. They may struggle, often financially and physically, with the demands of caregiving. They may themselves be elderly and in poor health, or they may be young and be experiencing conflicting emotions of sadness, frustration, and anger at the lack of support available to them and the sacrifice expected of them. These may be just some of the reasons why caregivers are so vulnerable to depression.
It’s quite likely that you know someone in a situation like this. Perhaps you’ve even thought of offering help? Some people fear what an offer of help might lead to; that there will be an expectation of more help. It invariably doesn’t work like this. An isolated caregiver might be so grateful for just 20 minutes of your company, the mince pie you take over, and a chat over a hot drink. They are like you and me. They’ll know you have other commitments, work and family, but the effect of your 20 minutes shows them that someone is aware and cares enough to make the effort. Isn’t that what Christmas is about?
Serani, F. (2001, November 15). Caregivers and Depression. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201111/caregivers-and-depression