I recently read a statistic that said one in four people in the US experience some type of mental health challenge. This got me thinking, who are the other three? Having experienced a mental health crisis with my son just a couple years ago, I can tell you that from my personal experience the other three are family members and Caregivers.
Caregivers are many times unsung heroes by choice. As caregivers we give and we do everything we can in good times and bad to take care of those who we love, without the expectation of recognition or even at times appreciation. What happens though when a Caregiver is doing all of this and feels that they have to remain silent because of stigma, shame and blame? Can you even imagine? Caregivers need a good support network and, at the very least time to recharge and practice self-care to keep themselves well enough to continue along their path. Though there is often guilt associated with taking care of themselves when their loved one is in crisis, without the ability to share what they are going through, many Caregivers find themselves alone, burned out and unwell.
Whether a parent or loved one, Caregivers show up everyday to take care of those who need us. But you know what? Many of the Caregivers out there are performing at superhero levels day in and day out. Most are under significant stress and few have solid support teams assembled to help take on some of the work. Why? Because in the midst of health crisis, it’s one foot in front of the other, one task, or one phone call at a time. For Caregivers like myself who found themselves in the midst of crisis with little warning, the balance of finding our footing and supporting our loved one is more than enough to focus on, reaching out for help or support for ourselves during this time can feel daunting and way out of our reach.
Let’s think for a moment about what the situation is like for many Caregivers who are supporting children, siblings, or even their own parents through a mental health crisis. The stigma, blame and shame for many can run deep and wide. These caregivers are not only performing superhero feats day in and day out but they are doing so while in many cases pretending that life is normal; acting as if things are smooth and quiet in their lives, as I did for a period of time when my son first went into crisis. Many of these caregivers go to work, they perform their roles with as much gusto and dedication as always but all the while in private, in the quiet dark corners of the office or even from their cars at lunch or break time, they are dealing with the reality of a mental health crisis.
Over the past several years, since my son went through his crisis and stabilization, I have noticed over and over the lack of open discussion by parents and Caregivers around mental health situations. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good networks out there but in the grand scheme of things they are few and far between. For me personally, I have had many discussions and coaching sessions with parents and Caregivers who didn’t have anyone to talk with or who couldn’t find anyone who truly understood the situation that they were going through. I found this myself, and have written about my own experiences a number of times on my blog.
“What made it more challenging was that when I went searching for support, there was little to be found. I really found this disheartening, especially because as I sat in Emergency rooms, waiting rooms and program assessments, I saw so many parents, many who seemed to be in the same emotional state as me, and I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more support options available. I kept feeling that personally it would help so much if I could talk with other parents who were going through similar experiences. Yet no one was talking. I reached out through my personal support circles and a few times felt that I was close to finding someone who understood what I was going through, to talk with. Each time a possible contact was identified, the answer that came back was “no”. One response that truly drove home my understanding of the secrecy surrounding mental illness came from an acupuncturist who was trying to help connect me with another client, “I asked my client, who is having a similar experience to yours, if she would want to meet for coffee to talk, but she said no, she doesn’t talk about her situation openly, in fact even her close friends do not know”
It still surprises me when I think back to the early days of my son’s crisis, and I recall the time I spent trying to find other parents who were willing to share their story with me, so that I could better understand what was happening; so that I could feel like there was a bit of a light or silver lining or something. Time and time again, I fell short, hearing that people were unwilling to share, because in their own daily lives, they had not shared with the people closest to them. How many parents and caregivers are out there, staying silent because they are afraid of the stigma, the blame that could come along with sharing their situation? There is deep shame for many. There is the feeling that they have done something terribly wrong and are the cause of their situation. So they stay silent.
And the silence can be deafening.
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This post was originally published in its entirety on Stigma Fighters: a mental health non-profit organization (501C3 pending) dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness –>Please head over to their website and show them some love!!