Caregivers suffer disproportionately from depression, anxiety and loneliness, but each caregiver can take one step that will help combat all three: finding a support group.
This may not be easy, and it may take time to find the right group, but once you find it, that group can provide not only stories and guidance from a community of caregivers but also emotional support and a stress escape valve to help through the many challenges of caregiving.
“It gives them an element of feeling that they're not in it alone—just feeling like they're part of something,” said Yael White, a program and education specialist with the Alzheimer's Association. On bad days, group members can call each other to vent and know “that person wouldn't judge them and wouldn't have any qualms about showing up... The group members can become family. They show up for you when your other friends may not know how to.”
Groups typically include people caring for patients in varying stages of their illness' journey. As group members share and support each other, each member not only finds a community to share their troubles with, but also a place that may provide guidance as they see what others are experiencing and how they have addressed various issues.
“It's the best place, I think, to work everything out because you're going to meet… people who are likeminded where you can feel connected,” White said.
Other caregivers can provide that safe space for sharing, and while sharing doesn't necessarily solve problems, it helps. Simply acknowledging an issue lightens the burden whether it stems from struggles with physically personal issues or the immense sadness that comes from eating dinner with a spouse who can no longer talk to you.
“People really look forward to coming,” White said. “When the group is bonded, nothing replaces that. Nothing also replaces the sadness, but being able to go somewhere to talk about it is extremely satisfying even if it's momentary.”
Here are some tips for finding both a support group and other emotional wellness aids for caregivers.
1) Contact Disease Organizations
Whatever a loved one’s condition, there is an organization that aims to help, and many provide local support groups. Each disease has specific aspects that may make a support group tailored to that disease the best fit.
2) Reach out to Other Groups and Agencies
Senior centers, caregiver support centers, the U.S. Department of Aging, churches, temples and community centers may all have options for support groups. See what is available in your area. Even if you live in a remote area without many services, online support groups are available. One such group can be found at caregiver.org.
3) Take Your Time
Finding the right group may be a challenge. It's worth the effort, though, so take your time and keep trying until you find the group that works best for you. This can even mean organizing your own support group. Maybe you already have a friend who is a caregiver or you might meet potential friends in the hospital or at caregiver classes. If so, be brave and ask them about forming a group. Think outside of the box. Maybe the group only can meet via weekly or monthly phone calls. That's okay. The important thing is to find a community that works for you.
4) Embrace the homework
Some group leaders, like White, may sometimes suggest a little homework to help caregivers learn new skills, or to otherwise aid their path. Perhaps the homework may entail trying to use different words with your loved one when encountering certain problems. Or they might encourage a group member to make an investigative call about in-home care or simply sit with the idea of what it might look like to bring someone into the home to help.
5) More Aid May Be Needed
Sometimes caregivers need more emotional support than a group can provide, and so a private therapist may be important. In addition, classes can benefit all caregivers and may occur online or in person. Certain classes provide disease-specific information or tools, while others provide general caregiving instruction that works across diseases. Check out the classes in your area to see what may work for you.
But regardless, keep looking for the right support group, which can be a special gift to you during your caregiving journey. “When caregivers find the right group, they find something that will grow with them,” White said. “They get more out of it the longer they're there and the more challenges they go through as a group.”