A new study shows that people who care for those with mental health challenges can be at risk for increased stress, substance abuse and depression. “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,” says Carsten Wrosch, a professor in the Concordia University Department of Psychology, and lead author of the study. The study, conducted by researchers from Concordia University, the University of British Columbia and AMI-Quebec, followed caregivers for 17 months to determine what factors influenced a more positive mental state.
Their results showed that those who easily rearranged their priorities had fewer mental health symptoms. “Caring for a relative with a mental illness can be strenuous – such caregivers can even be more burdened than caregivers of dementia patients,” Wrosch added. “That said, even in this situation, caregivers can experience high levels of wellbeing if they adjust their goals and use effective coping strategies.”
The participants who were able to reorganize and reprioritize their goals, such as career goals, hobbies and vacations, were able to develop better coping mechanisms that protected them from emotional tensions. The researchers believe the abilities to restructure and adapt creates resilience that serves the person in the stressful and ever changing role of caregiver. “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,” says co-author Ella Amir, executive director at AMI-Québec, an organization focused on helping families manage the effects of mental illness, and a Concordia graduate. “Avoiding self-blame and substance use, in turn, was associated with less caregiver burden and depressive symptoms,” continues 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.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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