Life can take all forms of turns and twists and there is nothing more of a divergence than when you’re loaded with the charge of becoming a carer for a loved one, whether it be a partner, parent or child, either permanently or temporarily. Current statistics tell us that there are approximately 7 million in the UK acting as carers for a loved one and that, at some point in our lives, a large proportion of us will have a loved one become dependent on them through ill health.
Daily tasks become concerned with medication, personal hygiene, housekeeping, cooking, medical appointments, and a carer’s world revolves around the well-being of those in their keeping, which makes it easy for them to lose their identity and their own sense of happiness. Suddenly having such a tremendous responsibility can spiral into mental illness for the carer themselves as well as alter their relationships with family and friends.
Evidence has told us that those who become carers are at risk of psychological burden as they struggle to accept changes in their relationships, and more specifically as their loved ones’ health deteriorates, causing need for more intense support.
Think of how many people you know who have been diagnosed with severe illnesses such as cancer, degenerative diseases of the older generation, and the impact of dementia. All of these people will be dependent upon somebody at some point and the majority will be relying on a family member to provide their care.
It’s probably easy to recognise that in life we are always trying to find our purpose or our identity; whether it be through our social circles, our employment or our appearance, and so when a change in our circumstance is thrust upon us, how we perceive ourselves and the world around us is shifted out of focus. Carers can feel isolated, alone, lost, and at a loose end. As much as you care and love someone, emotions become mixed as your role is focused on their sense of well-being and as a carer, you feel forgotten in society.
It’s even more upsetting to find that some research has found no amount of support can reduce the psychological distress faced when having to care for a loved one who is facing the need for palliative care.
And, naturally, all medical professionals are focused on supporting the dying patient rather than the carer, despite the fact that the carer has become susceptible to mental illness such as anxiety, depression, and even trauma.
As palliative care is a holistic approach to providing support and guidance to someone who is facing terminal illness, surely there should be a branch of help for the carer instead of solely focusing on giving respite from their duties?
Providing carers with knowledge can reduce levels of depression and encourage behavioural, cognitive, and emotional coping mechanisms as well as providing long-term support models from healthcare professionals, are all ways in which carers can be given the necessary tools to feel in control of their situation.
By acknowledging the complex range of responses to becoming a carer, a support worker can implement ways in which not only the patient benefits but the people living in the world around them. However, simply by accessing support groups or palliative care teams, carers can not only find solace for their loved one, but someone to talk to themselves which can relieve the burden of their psychological distress and improve the time they have with their loved one.
Image credit: Freepik
Katie Bagshawe is currently a Student Diagnostic Radiographer at the University of Derby. She holds an MSc in Psychology from Sheffield Hallam University.