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Family as Caregivers: Responsibility, Rewards, Needs

November was National Family Caregivers Month. An estimated 65 million Americans care for a family member. Of course, that is not just for families dealing with mental illness; that statistic accounts for those caring for loved ones with other physical and mental conditions, but also does not account for the number of families who are dealing emotionally with mental illness in a member even if direct care-giving is not a part of the picture right now.

I had the honor of being interviewed on several media outlets last week, and National Family Caregivers month drew to a close. The “month” may be over, but the job goes on. Here is one interview here, from “Reality Check” on Daytime TriCities.

Takeaways:
1. getting the diagnosis at last is both devastating and a relief after months or years of confusion and chaos.
2. Families are a vital part of the treatment team – a triad which includes healthcare professionals and the patient as well. Caregivers are the “eyes and ears” – where mental illness is concerned; often the most accurate witness to signs and symptoms. screenshot1-foxnews112911
3. When possible, a goal of this caregiving effort can result in increased patient self-care, functionality, and dignity.
4. It is hard work, emotionally as well as practically, and education and support are vital needs for family caregivers. Resources like HealthyPlace.com, NAMI, the National Family Caregivers Association,  (they recently reviewed my book here) and Mental Health America are excellent resources for these. Reach out. You are not alone.
5. Also essential for caregivers: Take care of yourself. If you don’t, you may not have the energy to care for anyone else. And sometimes, if you reach a point where there is nothing you can do for your loved one, then self-care is the only choice left. See friends. Have some fun. Get others to step up if you can. And, everything else aside, notice if your own attitude is helping you cope. Are you getting in the way of your own happiness? That is always something we, as caregivers, can look at and adjust, especially in those times between crises.

You are amazing.

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