Mental Health Month “Carers of those with mental illness”

We often talk about how hard it is for say, a person who is a relative and carer of someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. The toll it takes on them economically, emotionally and physically. In fact it is understood that many times the carer will die before the patient if they are of equivalent age, in the case of elderly couples where one is looking after another who is sick. This is because the stress upon that carer is enormous and not enough help and resources exist to off set that.

In America because we don’t have a socialized health care system we have less affordable or Government paid resources than any other Westernized country.

If it is true that many will go on to develop Alzheimer’s (1 in 3 by age 85) then it beggars the question, what will become of those people?

Whilst Alzheimer’s is not literally classified as a disorder of mental health, it affects mental faculties and health, and especially has a negative impact on the mental health of carers.

Take a typical example.

With people having kids older in life, let’s say someone has a parent who is 80 they are 40, the parent gets Alzheimer’s. The 40-year-old is working in a high stress insecure job. Most jobs today have less guarantees than ever and are ageist. The 40 year old has two kids, and a husband who doesn’t make very much money (another common feature in today’s economy) the cost of sending the kids to college is already almost impossible. The family lives in the city, their home is small because homes are so expensive in the city. When the parent is sick enough that they cannot take care of themselves the 40 year old is stuck not knowing what to do.

There are not free resources for the parent.

There are no affordable care-facilities and the cheap ones are tantamount to prison.

The house is too small to bring the parent into and both adults work, who would look after the parent?

Hiring help is too expensive.

What does that family do?

This is what we are seeing more and more. This is becoming a burgeoning problem of epic proportions but nobody seems to be doing anything to off set the disaster that will occur.

The only possible outcome in the above scenario would be to put the parent in a really awful care-facility that was still expensive and was well below par in terms of what you would ever wish your parent to experience. It would literally torture those who loved that parent and make that parents last years horrendous.

The only other outcome for those who could not live with themselves, would be that one adult in the family (if there were even two adults to begin with) would give up working. That would impact all members of the family and create a financial crisis. The kids couldn’t afford college. If the parent were a single parent as so many are, they would not be able to quit working, therefore this option would not even exist.

Can you imagine being FORCED to put your parent in a home that has feces on the floors, a record of patient abuse and rape, and where the patients are restrained and ignored?

It may come to that and it may come to kids euthanizing their parents out of feelings of hopelessness and despair. If that sounds melodramatic, believe me when I tell you not only have I witnessed that but I predict it based upon the lack of other options.

Despite this nothing is being done and increasingly, carers are effectively giving up their lives, their financial security, and their other responsibilities such as parenting and working, to care for elderly (and sometimes surprisingly youthful) members of their family with Alzheimer’s.

The long-term impact of this hasn’t been properly evidenced yet but it will and is revealing itself. Our generations have less savings, less security and less money than our predecessors and this will be a house of cards.

The mental health impact of caring for loved ones with such diseases can cause the carer to resent even those they deeply love and also cause depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, isolation, guilt, inadequacy, panic, anger, and other negative mental feelings that can impact the effectiveness of the care and the carers own personal life.

As much as we may as a nation be against anything with the word ‘socialized’ what alternative exists but some socialized healthcare whereby we have resources to care for these expected high populations?

Likewise, where are our resources for carers such as social workers and nurses who can at least, take some of the pressure off 24 hour care.

Even those countries with socialized healthcare are experiencing an unpresidented rise in patient need and struggling to cover this. Imagine what will happen in ten or twenty years time when our workforce will be negatively impacted, our economy will flounder and people’s mental health will be affected by this pandemic. What are we really doing to prepare for that? Why isn’t this considered of crucial importance but we can find time to pour money into one-sided wars in far-flung countries? Are our priorities very wrong?

Thanks to Johann for inspiration on this one.