The Caregiver's Tightrope Walk of Nobility and Shame
Many people have the experience of taking care of a loved one who may be facing physical or mental health challenges. According to Statistics Canada, almost half of Canadians 15 years or older provide some type of care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition. While most Canadians spend under 10 hours providing care for their loved ones, approximately 10% spend over 30 hours doing caregiving duties. Additionally, close to 90% are caregivers carry out their duties for a year or more.
So, why the focus on caregivers? It is clear that the impact of work of caregivers is far-reaching. With an already strained health system, caregivers provide invaluable support and care to their loved ones to help maintain a society's health, wellness and productivity. However, it is easy for their work to go unnoticed, keeping in mind that it is usually unpaid (or underpaid) work. This is why many consider the role of caregiving to be a noble one. It usually involves selfless, relentless advocacy, as well as consistent and tireless effort. The reality is, though, that caregivers also experience internal emotional turmoil as they make sense of the changes and the emotional demands that the role brings.
Caregivers often struggle with feelings of guilt particularly when contemplating their own self-care. There is a sense of "How can I be enjoying my own time when my loved one is suffering?" Self-judgment is also apparent whenever they identify with their own struggles as a caregiver, suggesting that doing so invalidates the challenges of the one for whom they provide care.
Because it is unpaid/underpaid work, there is a greater sense of "invisibility" with the role. As a result, the experiences of the caregiver can easily become invalidated because of the self-censorship that takes place with guilt (as discussed above), as well as not receiving the support needed for the care and effort it takes. Not surprisingly, this easily leads to...
Given the stressful demands associated with caregiving, burnout is a major risk associated with the role. The factors discussed above as well as the emotional and physical exhaustion that can result from the experience, prolonged exposure to this stressful role can result in symptoms such as trouble sleeping, depression, irritability, and increasing reliance on maladaptive coping strategies.
These factors themselves can be barriers for many caregivers wishing to seek support. If you are a caregiver wanting therapeutic support, or you know someone who could benefit from therapy, it is important to speak with (or suggest they talk to) a doctor or mental health professional sooner than later.
If you're thinking about therapy and would like to discuss this or other issues (including how therapy can be helpful), feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation.