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caring for yourself while caring for others

Caring for yourself while caring for others

The phrase mental health still has a stigma attached to it, though it’s slowly changing as more caregivers are open to discussing mental health with their patients and the families of patients. Caregivers may not be as open to addressing their own mental health struggles. Caring for yourself while caring for others is often a challenge caregivers face.

“I just started my 50th year working in mental health, so I have a good perspective of the stigma over those 50 years. If I was to compare it to the early ’70s, it’s made leaps and bounds and changed drastically. But are we there, where we want to be? No. Is the stigma still there? Yes. Is some of it pretty blatant? Yes, at times,” said Rik Cornell, LICSW, Vice President of Community Relations at The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.

The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester offers recovery-focused, community-based care, including continuing education opportunities for professional caregivers . The stigma around mental health combined with healthcare providers often putting their own mental wellbeing on the backburner means professional caregivers often aren’t addressing their own mental health needs. 

“The stigma does still interfere with people getting therapy, and interfere with people admitting that they have a problem,” Rik said. 

He mentioned that prior to COVID, mental health professionals reported that one in five Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness in the course of a year. What’s inaccurate about that number is the many people that don’t seek treatment for anxiety or depression that need to. Plus, you add the trauma of COVID to people’s lives — caregivers included — and that number surely is higher today.

“I had a mom that was in the medical field, and I know this is going to sound off, but healthcare professionals can be the worst patients. It was kind of the running joke in my family that they’re the worst because they know everything and they read everything. Right. But what do they do? They’re more conservative taking care of everybody else than they are about themselves. And I think therapists generally tend to be more concerned with helping everybody else without thinking about taking care of themselves. And they need to.” Rik said.

Rik said the center does some work around trauma stewardship and the need for caregivers to pay attention to their own needs and take care of themselves. He recommends the book, “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,” by Connie Burk and Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. The introduction to the book states:

“This book is a navigational tool for remembering that we have options at every step of our lives. We choose our own path. We can make a difference without suffering; we can do meaningful work in a way that works for us and for those we serve. We can enjoy the world and set it straight. We can leave a legacy that embodies our deepest wisdom and greatest gifts instead of one that is burdened with our struggles and despair.”

“Everybody goes their separate ways, and we’ve got to stop doing that. One of the things that we know that keeps therapy working is talking. And if people aren’t talking, they’re never going to get there,” Rik said. 

Mental Health America offers free mental health screening tests. 

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