THE ALBATROSS OF CARE OF THE MENTALLY ILL ON THE CAREGIVERS
THE ALBATROSS OF CARE OF THE MENTALLY ILL ON THE CAREGIVERS
Sometime ago, a person living with mental illness became ill after she had stopped taking her medication. she lived alone, the relatives had to be contacted, her closest sibling stopped responding to calls relating to his sister. However after much persistence in calling his phone, he responded but volunteered that he is tired and fed up of the situation of his sisters health, he told me about the previous time she was ill and how he left his workplace to go take care of her, he told me how he lost his job in the process and now that has another job he does not want to risk losing this one … This is the story of most people who are responsible for taking care of mentally ill Such is the burden they bear… It’s an albatross, but is it one they can’t stop bearing…?
I have always wondered if I would have the opportunity to talk about this issue. Having worked closely with several mentally ill patients and their caregivers, I have the burden of expressing some of my feelings concerning their constant struggles and challenges. I have been opportuned to feel some of their frustrations, anxieties and pains.
It starts from when the first breakdown occurs. Relatives and family members blame themselves for the illness, they blame other people and sometimes they blame God, for their predicament. They have a feeling of being inadequate, thoughts of having done something wrong, and the ill thoughts just go on and on.
Mental illness is when the person cannot stay in touch with reality, leading to inability to function socially and independently.
In that case, they depend on people to help and support them physically, emotionally and economically.
The people who function in this capacity are called the caregivers. These are mostly their families and in most cases, their mothers, siblings and wives.
The caregivers also bear the behavioral disturbances of the patients. I have seen several cases where the caregivers are even the targets of the attacks of the mentally ill.
Many caregivers have to work and care for other family members, yet they still have the task of supporting the mentally ill member of the family.
It is no doubt a daunting task.
Let’s have a look at some of the tasks carried out by the caregivers
1. Payment for treatment and medications: In Nigeria, the treatment and medications for mental illness are expensive. Most people can’t afford it. Little wonder you find people being taken to spiritual homes for healing. It’s also one of the reasons people default on their medications.
2. Ensuring regular clinics and check up: It is the job of the caregivers to ensure that the patient attend clinics according to the appointment given by the psychiatrists. Most times, clinic days clash with work schedules and one will be left for the other. Most times, clinic days mean no other productive economic activity for that day. A family member once told me that he was sacked from his work place when he took his sister to the clinic and stayed the whole day there. What is worse is that people travel far distances to access standard psychiatric hospitals.
3. Medications compliance : Asides buying medications and ensuring clinic attendance, the caregivers are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the patient takes the medications. Depending on the level of insight of the patient, it sometimes involves cajoling, persuasion and threat to get them to do this.
4. Stigma and Discrimination : People living with mental illness with their family members and caregivers are stigmatized and discriminated against. Many people hide from the public. People are afraid of not finding a marriage partner based on their health status.
The caregivers bear these burdens most of the time. They are under enormous stress and emotional turmoil.
Here are some of the ways through which these burdens can be relieved :
THE SUPPORT GROUP ESTABLISHMENT
A support group is a congregation of people who have similar challenges and are willing to lean on one another while learning how to effectively cope with the challenge. A family and caregivers support group will help to update them on new research about the illness and teach effective coping mechanisms. It will also enable the caregivers to express themselves without fear of judgement.
GROUP AND INDIVIDUAL THERAPY
Here the family members are taught practical and day to day patient management.
They are offered simple and practical solutions which would bring relief to them.
Things like stress management and anxiety therapy can be done for the caregivers on individual basis.
The government and multinational organization should look seriously into subsidising care and treatment for the mentally ill people. That way, the economic burden would reduce on the caregivers and it would enhance compliance to medication and treatment.
ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMUNITY REHABILITATION PROGRAM
This is aimed at empowering the mentally ill patient for independent living. It is organized and coordinated by doctors, medical social workers, nurses, occupational therapists and psychologists.
Each person is taught in a major work. It would also help to reintroduce them to the society and improve their sense of self worth.
HOME CARE AND DAY CARE CENTERS
Whether for long term or short term care, these homes would cater to their needs while the caregivers can go to work and earn without the fear of neglecting their patients.
Educating the public on the challenges of mental illness is important as this will eradicate the stigmatization of people living with the illness. This will also motivate the society to be compassionate towards the patients and caregivers.
Mental illness is neither the fault of the sufferer nor the caregivers. It is important to note that the caregivers suffer as much as the patients, if not more. They have a need for warmth and compassion just as everyone. You and I can start by showing them that even though we are not suffering from the illness, we understand and share their plights.
This way, the world would become a better place for us all.