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Caring for Our Caregivers

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A caregiver by definition is simply a person who provides direct care.  Can you think of anyone in your life that fits that definition?


A parent who provides direct care for their child.  

A teacher who provides direct care for their students.  

A child may provide direct care for their aging parent.  


While these are indeed all caregivers by the given definition, there are some types of caregivers that, due to the circumstances, take on a greater responsibility, and, in turn, burden a unique and unseen weight everyday.


While the first type of caregiver that popped into your head when I asked the question might have been someone who cares for someone when they are sick, there are several types of caregivers that we interact with on a daily basis whose care and support might go unnoticed.


Think about the parent who has just learned their child will qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school.  

Think about the parent whose child’s school counselor has called and their child needs yet another meeting to discuss negative behaviors in the classroom and this time they need a written behavior plan.  

Think about the adult child who has to provide care for a parent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  

Think about the spouse of the man or woman who has been in a car accident thereby altering their level of independence forever.

Think about the spouse or parent of the individual who has been diagnosed with a mental illness.


These types of caregivers, and all others who provide care, provide direct care for their loved one, but are also tasked more informally with other possibilities. For example, a conflict in scheduling may result in the need to quit their job. Or perhaps they might need to move a loved one into their home. In any case, they will most likely deal with stigma regarding mental illness, medical conditions, disabilities, aging and possibly face judgement from society for the ways they personally choose to handle each situation that may arise. All of these stresses can create what may feel like a hopeless scenario for these caregivers.  This is why supports for caregivers is so important.


Being a caregiver can create a feeling of stress and discouragement. Providing care on top of our daily responsibilities to your family, career and friends is extremely difficult to juggle. It is important to rely on caregiver supports to help navigate and cope with the responsibilities of being a caregiver.  


Caregiver Supports

 


Education:

As a caregiver or a family member or friend of a caregiver, it is important to become educated about the medical condition, mental health diagnosis, or behavioral health issue of your loved one.  This can help the caregiver have a better understanding of what their loved one may be experiencing as well as ways the caregiver can support them. Education can also help family members or friends of the caregiver provide understanding and support as the caregiver goes through the ups and downs of their new role. Ask for educational materials from the practitioner that provided the diagnosis.  Look on the internet for a credible web page dedicated to the diagnosis. Go to the library and look up articles or books. There is not shortage of information, you just have to seek it out.

Support Groups:

Many medical and mental health diagnoses have related support groups geared towards supporting caregivers.  If there is not a formal support group already in place, some caregivers look to virtual supports both on social media and in other areas of the internet.  With the technology available to us, we can meet virtually with other caregivers who are going through the same things. Below, find some links to some more well-known support groups:


Alzheimer's:

https://www.alz.org/apps/we_can_help/support_groups.asp


Autism:

https://www.autismspeaks.org/resource-guide/by-state/91/Support%20Groups/MO


Mental Illness:

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/Nami-Family-Support-Group


Stroke:

https://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/FindingSupportYouAreNotAlone/Finding-Stroke-Support-You-Are-Not-Alone_UCM_308556_SubHomePage.jsp


Mental Health Counseling:

Counseling is not only available for those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.  Situational factors create need for caregivers to speak with a mental health professional about the stress, episodes of depressed mood, and feelings of despair or discouragement a caregiver might be feeling as they provide care for their loved one.


Community:

Rely on and seek out supports in the community.  The parent you see who also frequently goes meets at the school to talk about their child’s behavior, the adult child checking their parent into the neurologist’s office for an Alzheimer’s appointment that you recognize from previous appointments, a family member that you have been to several Al-Anon meetings at the same time with - reach out to these people, take the first step to say hello.  There is no one who will understand what you are going through more than someone who is going through the same thing. Share resources, horror stories, successes, and help each them understand that whatever they might be feeling is okay.  


Because the weight of caregiving might be invisible to others, it’s always important to spread kindness in all we do. The next time you interact with someone who seems like they are having a bad day, ask how they are, offer to bring them a meal, pick up a child from school, just sit and chat. We never know what others are going through; they may be providing care for someone they love.  


And finally, remember that, in some capacity, we are all caregivers and feeling that someone else notices all we are doing can sometimes make all the difference in the world. Give care.

 

Emily Olsen MSW, LCSW :: Licensed Clinical Social Worker

DotCom Therapists Speak

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