A caregiver is someone that has taken on the responsibility of looking after a person with a mental health condition. This could be anyone, not just close family members! Extended family members, friends, even classmates and colleagues. It doesn’t matter how much care you provide. You could be providing daily care as the primary caregiver, or helping the main caregiver out on an ad hoc basis. Perhaps you are supporting the person-in-recovery financially, or providing emotional support by being there when they need a listening ear. As long as you take an interest in the well-being of the care recipient, you are a caregiver.

Every single person along the chain plays a crucial role in fostering a conducive environment for the person to walk the road to recovery or be cared for in the best possible way.

Types of Caregivers: 

  1. Primary Caregiver – The main caregiver to a family member, partner or friend etc

  2. Secondary or Ad Hoc Caregiver – Someone who assumes a supporting role to the primary caregiver, whether financially, emotionally or by standing in for the primary caregiver on occasion

  3. Caregiver to Self – Caring for yourself if you are living with a mental health issue

  4. Caregiver To Be – All of us may potentially need to support someone with dementia or a mental health issue. It is best to be prepared.

Why do Caregivers need Support? 

Relationships with Loved One

The moods, speech, and behaviour of someone with a mental health issue may be bewildering to their caregivers. Caregivers can witness bizarre actions, a lack of self-care, self-harming behaviour or even become the target of aggression from someone whom they care deeply about. It can be traumatising and difficult to acknowledge that someone you love is suffering mental anguish and that you are helpless in the face of it. 

 

Often, caregivers try to persuade their loved one not to do this or that, or seek to correct their behaviour – but end up quarrelling with their loved one or with each other over how best to handle the situation. When reasoning, coaxing, and threats do not work, relationships can quickly deteriorate if caregivers do not seek help.

Fear of Stigma

Often, it is easier for caregivers to believe that their loved one has a character flaw such as laziness or lack of self-discipline, than to acknowledge the existence of a mental health condition. After all, most people believe that values can be inculcated but mental health issues carry a much heavier weight, and unfortunately are often associated with stigma and shame.

 

Since the root of stigma lies in ignorance and superstition, CAL encourages all caregivers to empower themselves and their families through knowledge about mental health issues. One means of this is to enrol in CAL’s training programmes. When caregivers understand that mental health health issues are no different from physical illness, and that treatments are available, they can let go of their fears and focus on learning how to improve the situation for their families.

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Grappling with Ambiguous Loss

Caregivers may feel a sense of loss over ‘losing’ the person they knew before the mental health issue set in. It is almost as if they have to accept a different person, one that resembles their loved one in appearance, but who may have a different personality. This is the dilemma of ambiguous loss.

 

Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without a significant likelihood of reaching emotional closure or a clear understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief. Nevertheless, emotional healing can take place when emotions are expressed in a non-judgemental atmosphere of supportive caregivers, which CAL is able to provide.

Coping with Intense Feelings

Providing care for someone with a mental health issue can at times be overwhelming and distressing. Feelings are complex and vary from person to person. Caregivers need to recognise what they are feeling and to understand why they feel the way they do, because feelings affect decision-making and behaviour.

 

Talking to a counsellor about uncomfortable feelings such as grief, anger, resentment and shame can help you examine and sort through your emotions. Counselling sessions can help us to understand ourselves better and view issues in perspective, which boosts our resilience in handling setbacks.