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Lifeline Crisis Support
13 11 14
You may have heard the term “burnout” before and not really thought that it would ever apply to you. It’s true that many people with high-stress corporate jobs – such as executives – get burned out. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout. It is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion in which there is a change in attitude: from positive and caring to unconcerned or even negative. Caregiver burnout happens when caregivers attempt to do more they are able to do or give more than they have to give: physically, emotionally, and/or financially (WebMD, 2012; Smith, Segal, & Segal, 2012).
While mental health experts acknowledge that there are many causes of burnout, some of the common factors in caregiver burnout revolve around the problem that caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own physical, psychological, and spiritual needs. The many demands made on a caregiver can seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and eventual burnout. To make matters worse, these factors are often also in play:
The person used to be only your father, mother, wife, or friend. Now they are also majorly dependent on you for their care, and the relationship – and the balance of power or equality of it – inevitably changes. Navigating through the role changes and reversals is often an unconscious process and may be just as stressful as any of the physical care rendered.
You may be thinking – expecting! – that your attention to the care recipient will result in positive outcomes for the person: that they will be healthier, or at least happier or more comfortable for your efforts. That may not be the case, and facing a worsening condition on the part of your cared-for person may be just as demoralising to you as caregiver as it is for the person who is ill. Too, the care recipient may have unrealistic expectations of you, not realising how much you are already doing, or how hard it is to stay in the game continuing to do it, so that which you are doing may not be appreciated.
Lack of control
Many caregivers get frustrated by a lack of resources, skills, and money to organise and maintain their loved one’s care. You may be disappointed with the efforts of the medical system, or perhaps the community health care system which your cared-for person is plugged into, but you may not be able to do anything about the way in which the person is cared for (or not).
Caregivers whose sole responsibility is the care for their loved one may place unreasonable demands on themselves, especially when the person is their exclusive responsibility: that is, no one else is helping with the care effort (WebMD, 2012)
Many caregivers understand the work-related causes of impending burnout (which are listed on the previous screen). But would you recognise (or would you be in denial about) these other causes?
Burnout is a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time: not overnight. But it is serious. A study of family caregivers found that those who experience caregiving-related stress have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age (Sollitto, 2013). And caregiver burnout is insidious: it creeps up on people, rendering them ineffective or unable to continue: for some, well before they are aware of what is hitting them.
Mind Your Head is an initiative of the Australian Counselling Association, a national professional association for qualified Counsellors.