Taking care of a loved one with a mental illness can lead to mental problems in the primary caregiver.
A Canadian study has found family caregivers can experience high levels of stress, self-blame, substance abuse and depressive symptoms. Researchers suggest that caregivers refocus their priorities and lighten their load.
“Being the principal caregiver to a mentally ill family member is a stressor that often creates high levels of burden and contributes to depressive symptoms,” said lead author Dr. Carsten Wrosch, a psychology professor at Concordia University.
“Caring for a relative with a mental illness can be strenuous — such caregivers can even be more burdened than caregivers of dementia patients,” Wrosch said.
“That said, even in this situation, caregivers can experience high levels of well-being if they adjust their goals and use effective coping strategies.”
In the study, researchers followed family caregivers over a 17-month period and found those who reset priorities fared better. The research team expected that caregivers who are capable of adjusting important life goals (e.g., career, vacation, etc.) would cope better with caregiving stress and that this resilient process would protect their emotional well-being.
“We found participants who had an easier time abandoning goals blamed themselves less frequently for problems associated with caregiving and used alcohol or drugs less frequently to regulate their emotions,” said co-author Ella Amir.
“Avoiding self-blame and substance use, in turn, was associated with less caregiver burden and depressive symptoms,” said Amir.
“Being able to disengage from goals is protective against depressive symptoms, partly because it reduces the likelihood of coping through self-blame and substance use.”
The study is published in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
While pursuing new goals was found to provide purpose to family caregivers, taking on novel pastimes could add to their strain.
- • 78 percent of caregivers were women and 22 percent were men;
• 57 percent had received an undergraduate degree or higher;
• 73 percent were married or cohabitating with a partner;
• 41 percent had relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia;
• 37 percent had relatives diagnosed with a mood disorder;
• 22 percent had relatives diagnosed with other mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.