The World Health Organization has defined health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” Health does not exist in isolation; it is the product of the interaction of our natural and physical environments, socio-economic status, spirituality, psycho-social conditions and cultural norms.
In 2003, a study was done through Family Caregiver Alliance showing high rates of depressive symptoms among caregivers. This, in combination with other factors, likely puts many caregivers at serious risk of poor physical health outcomes as well. In fact, caregivers may become more depressed than patients. When caregivers suffer from excessive burden and high rates of depression (30 to 59 percent of caregiver population), the potential impact to the family, patient, employer and society can be large.
When people find out they have cancer, they often experience feelings of disbelief, denial or despair. They may also have difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, anxiety (tense-fearfulapprehensive), difficulty concentrating, physical ailments, a fear of losing control of going crazy, financial concerns, and a preoccupation with worries about the future. Caregivers may also have these feelings.
The caregiver takes on additional roles while caring for their loved one and dealing with their own feelings. Both patient and caregiver are grieving for losing the way life was and mourn the deterioration of the patient’s health. The caregiver and patient may feel isolated from friends and family who are having difficulties managing their own discomfort with the patient’s illness and possible death.
During the course of the illness the caregiver and patient may feel many losses that include intimacy, sex, privacy, dreams, partnership, money, and intellectual stimulation. These losses might produce feelings of anger, sadness, depression and abandonment. It is common for both the patient and caregiver to feel isolated, invisible and numb.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and notice difficulty coping with routine activities in your life, consider seeking help. Discussing your feelings is a survival necessity. Caregivers need someone to hear and validate their feelings. Mental health professionals can be a great source of support. Your physician or social worker may be able to direct you to where to go for help.