Caring for a Dying Loved One: Your Mental Health

Reviewed Jan 19, 2016

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Summary

  • monitor for depression and anxiety
  • seek help from a mental health professional
  • join a support group

Caring for a dying loved one is physically and emotionally draining. “There’s a life-threatening condition causing serious harm to someone you love, and you’re unable to do anything about it,” explains Yale University researcher Holly Prigerson, PhD. “I don’t think people appreciate what caregivers go through.”

Those life-and-death issues often translate into serious mental health problems for caregivers. Research by Prigerson and other experts shows that caregivers experience increased risk of major depressive disorder, anxiety, reduced quality of life and chronic stress that can lead to other health problems.

You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else. If you provide care for a seriously ill loved one, learn how it can affect your mental health, and what you can do to help yourself.

Caregiving and depression

Prigerson and her team developed the Stressful Caregiving Adult Reactions to Experiences of Dying (SCARED) scale to assess potentially traumatic experiences caregivers encounter while caring for terminally ill loved ones. Specifically, the scale asked caregivers to indicate whether they had witnessed their loved one experience any of 8 possible events, including severe pain or discomfort, vomiting, or falling, collapsing or passing out. The Yale team administered the SCARED scale to dozens of people caring for terminally ill loved ones in hospice settings.

“The average Joe or Jane is encountering a lot of really upsetting experiences that really go unrecognized,” Prigerson says. “The effects of just watching these things have a serious negative impact on their health and well-being. The event frequency score predicted a threefold greater increase in the risk of major depressive disorder. Thirty percent of these caregivers were meeting criteria for depression.”

Prigerson thinks those rates may be higher among caregivers without hospice support. One University of Miami study found that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving reports.

Caregiving and quality of life

The Yale study also found a link between the SCARED scale event frequency score and predicted quality of life impairments, Prigerson says. Caregivers often experienced decreased ability to perform work they normally perform in other roles, and a decrease in healthy social functioning, energy levels and perceptions of their own health. 

Caregiving and anxiety

Many caregivers experience anxiety, often related to money, health problems and family relationships. In cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), those worries can start to interfere with everyday functioning, according to Today’s Caregiver magazine. People with GAD often complain of insomnia and an inability to concentrate. And, caregivers report more feelings of anxiety than noncaregivers, according to Alzheimer Solutions.      

Caregiving and chronic stress

Dealing with caregiving responsibilities on a daily basis can cause chronic stress. Besides the obvious emotional toll, chronic stress can impair the immune system and increase susceptibility to disease.

What you can do

You can help yourself avoid serious mental health problems. Keep these tips in mind, especially if you start feeling depressed, overly anxious or stressed:

  • Seek help from mental health professionals in dealing with your emotions and their impact on your life.
  • Enroll in a hospice program as soon as possible, which will provide care and support for your loved one and for you and your family.
  • Use community resources, such as transportation services and social work services.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. You shouldn’t have to deal with the experience alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for support. People often want to help, but aren’t sure how.
  • Keep a sense of perspective. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about wanting to take some time for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do—and what you want to do and don’t want to do.
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing present circumstances with your past relationship with your seriously ill loved one.
  • Use in-home care, or find adult day care.
  • Join a support group. You’ll probably feel better if you can talk about your experiences with people in similar situations.

Resources

About Senior Health
http://seniorhealth.about.com/mbody.htm

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
www.rci.gsw.edu

Today’s Caregiver
www.caregiver.com

By Kristen Knight
Source: Holly Prigerson, PhD; About Senior Health; Alzheimer Solutions; American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry; 4Therapy.com; Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving; Today’s Caregiver; Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman. Henry Holt, 1996; The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde. Times Books, 2000.

Summary

  • monitor for depression and anxiety
  • seek help from a mental health professional
  • join a support group

Caring for a dying loved one is physically and emotionally draining. “There’s a life-threatening condition causing serious harm to someone you love, and you’re unable to do anything about it,” explains Yale University researcher Holly Prigerson, PhD. “I don’t think people appreciate what caregivers go through.”

Those life-and-death issues often translate into serious mental health problems for caregivers. Research by Prigerson and other experts shows that caregivers experience increased risk of major depressive disorder, anxiety, reduced quality of life and chronic stress that can lead to other health problems.

You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else. If you provide care for a seriously ill loved one, learn how it can affect your mental health, and what you can do to help yourself.

Caregiving and depression

Prigerson and her team developed the Stressful Caregiving Adult Reactions to Experiences of Dying (SCARED) scale to assess potentially traumatic experiences caregivers encounter while caring for terminally ill loved ones. Specifically, the scale asked caregivers to indicate whether they had witnessed their loved one experience any of 8 possible events, including severe pain or discomfort, vomiting, or falling, collapsing or passing out. The Yale team administered the SCARED scale to dozens of people caring for terminally ill loved ones in hospice settings.

“The average Joe or Jane is encountering a lot of really upsetting experiences that really go unrecognized,” Prigerson says. “The effects of just watching these things have a serious negative impact on their health and well-being. The event frequency score predicted a threefold greater increase in the risk of major depressive disorder. Thirty percent of these caregivers were meeting criteria for depression.”

Prigerson thinks those rates may be higher among caregivers without hospice support. One University of Miami study found that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving reports.

Caregiving and quality of life

The Yale study also found a link between the SCARED scale event frequency score and predicted quality of life impairments, Prigerson says. Caregivers often experienced decreased ability to perform work they normally perform in other roles, and a decrease in healthy social functioning, energy levels and perceptions of their own health. 

Caregiving and anxiety

Many caregivers experience anxiety, often related to money, health problems and family relationships. In cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), those worries can start to interfere with everyday functioning, according to Today’s Caregiver magazine. People with GAD often complain of insomnia and an inability to concentrate. And, caregivers report more feelings of anxiety than noncaregivers, according to Alzheimer Solutions.      

Caregiving and chronic stress

Dealing with caregiving responsibilities on a daily basis can cause chronic stress. Besides the obvious emotional toll, chronic stress can impair the immune system and increase susceptibility to disease.

What you can do

You can help yourself avoid serious mental health problems. Keep these tips in mind, especially if you start feeling depressed, overly anxious or stressed:

  • Seek help from mental health professionals in dealing with your emotions and their impact on your life.
  • Enroll in a hospice program as soon as possible, which will provide care and support for your loved one and for you and your family.
  • Use community resources, such as transportation services and social work services.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. You shouldn’t have to deal with the experience alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for support. People often want to help, but aren’t sure how.
  • Keep a sense of perspective. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about wanting to take some time for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do—and what you want to do and don’t want to do.
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing present circumstances with your past relationship with your seriously ill loved one.
  • Use in-home care, or find adult day care.
  • Join a support group. You’ll probably feel better if you can talk about your experiences with people in similar situations.

Resources

About Senior Health
http://seniorhealth.about.com/mbody.htm

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
www.rci.gsw.edu

Today’s Caregiver
www.caregiver.com

By Kristen Knight
Source: Holly Prigerson, PhD; About Senior Health; Alzheimer Solutions; American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry; 4Therapy.com; Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving; Today’s Caregiver; Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman. Henry Holt, 1996; The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde. Times Books, 2000.

Summary

  • monitor for depression and anxiety
  • seek help from a mental health professional
  • join a support group

Caring for a dying loved one is physically and emotionally draining. “There’s a life-threatening condition causing serious harm to someone you love, and you’re unable to do anything about it,” explains Yale University researcher Holly Prigerson, PhD. “I don’t think people appreciate what caregivers go through.”

Those life-and-death issues often translate into serious mental health problems for caregivers. Research by Prigerson and other experts shows that caregivers experience increased risk of major depressive disorder, anxiety, reduced quality of life and chronic stress that can lead to other health problems.

You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else. If you provide care for a seriously ill loved one, learn how it can affect your mental health, and what you can do to help yourself.

Caregiving and depression

Prigerson and her team developed the Stressful Caregiving Adult Reactions to Experiences of Dying (SCARED) scale to assess potentially traumatic experiences caregivers encounter while caring for terminally ill loved ones. Specifically, the scale asked caregivers to indicate whether they had witnessed their loved one experience any of 8 possible events, including severe pain or discomfort, vomiting, or falling, collapsing or passing out. The Yale team administered the SCARED scale to dozens of people caring for terminally ill loved ones in hospice settings.

“The average Joe or Jane is encountering a lot of really upsetting experiences that really go unrecognized,” Prigerson says. “The effects of just watching these things have a serious negative impact on their health and well-being. The event frequency score predicted a threefold greater increase in the risk of major depressive disorder. Thirty percent of these caregivers were meeting criteria for depression.”

Prigerson thinks those rates may be higher among caregivers without hospice support. One University of Miami study found that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving reports.

Caregiving and quality of life

The Yale study also found a link between the SCARED scale event frequency score and predicted quality of life impairments, Prigerson says. Caregivers often experienced decreased ability to perform work they normally perform in other roles, and a decrease in healthy social functioning, energy levels and perceptions of their own health. 

Caregiving and anxiety

Many caregivers experience anxiety, often related to money, health problems and family relationships. In cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), those worries can start to interfere with everyday functioning, according to Today’s Caregiver magazine. People with GAD often complain of insomnia and an inability to concentrate. And, caregivers report more feelings of anxiety than noncaregivers, according to Alzheimer Solutions.      

Caregiving and chronic stress

Dealing with caregiving responsibilities on a daily basis can cause chronic stress. Besides the obvious emotional toll, chronic stress can impair the immune system and increase susceptibility to disease.

What you can do

You can help yourself avoid serious mental health problems. Keep these tips in mind, especially if you start feeling depressed, overly anxious or stressed:

  • Seek help from mental health professionals in dealing with your emotions and their impact on your life.
  • Enroll in a hospice program as soon as possible, which will provide care and support for your loved one and for you and your family.
  • Use community resources, such as transportation services and social work services.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. You shouldn’t have to deal with the experience alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for support. People often want to help, but aren’t sure how.
  • Keep a sense of perspective. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about wanting to take some time for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do—and what you want to do and don’t want to do.
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing present circumstances with your past relationship with your seriously ill loved one.
  • Use in-home care, or find adult day care.
  • Join a support group. You’ll probably feel better if you can talk about your experiences with people in similar situations.

Resources

About Senior Health
http://seniorhealth.about.com/mbody.htm

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
www.rci.gsw.edu

Today’s Caregiver
www.caregiver.com

By Kristen Knight
Source: Holly Prigerson, PhD; About Senior Health; Alzheimer Solutions; American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry; 4Therapy.com; Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving; Today’s Caregiver; Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman. Henry Holt, 1996; The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde. Times Books, 2000.

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The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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