3-minute read

Understanding caregiver burnout

What to look out for if you’re feeling overwhelmed while caring for someone.


Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can easily become overwhelming as time passes with seemingly no end in sight. Supporting someone with mental illness is often a lifelong affair, so it is crucial that your caregiving remains effective and sustainable. And the key to this is taking good care of yourself.

CAREGIVER WELL-BEING

If caregiving is taking a physical, mental or emotional toll on you, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout. When you get to this point, the well-being of both yourself and the loved one you are caring for will be compromised, since you will on longer be able to provide optimal care for them due to your own exhaustion. 

A more serious form of burnout called compassion fatigue may set in, where caregivers experience a weakened sense of empathy for those in their care and display uncharacteristic behaviours or attitudes. Characterised by indifference and insensitivity towards others, it can manifest in neglect or even worse, violence.

If you are caring for someone with mental illness, do spend a few minutes taking stock of your well-being. 

COMMON CAUSES OF BURNOUT

Are you experiencing any of these common causes of caregiver burnout*?

  • Balancing multiple and/or conflicting responsibilities 
  • Lack of control over your loved one’s condition
  • Lack of support from others, or personal inability to ask others for help
  • Lack of appropriate caregiving skills and knowledge
  • Lack of personal time for yourself
  • Financial stress
  • Pressure, judgement or unsolicited advice from others
  • Excessive demands from the person you’re caring for and from other people in your life
  • Unrealistic expectations about the improvements your loved one will have due to your caregiving
  • Negative mindsets or misconceptions, for example, ‘I am being selfish if I put my needs first’, ‘If I don’t do it, no one will’, ‘There’s no way I can find 15 minutes to exercise’, ‘Nothing is going right’, ‘If I do this, I will get the love, attention and respect I deserve’, and so on.

COMMON SIGNS OF BURNOUT

Are you experiencing any of these common signs of caregiver burnout*?

  • Feeling constantly tired or low in energy, no matter how much rest you get
  • Falling ill more easily, taking a longer time to fully recover
  • Getting easily angry, irritated or impatient
  • Loss of interest in social activities or things you enjoy
  • Spending less time on yourself, including for personal grooming, meals, leisure, essential health services
  • Change in sleep patterns, appetite or weight
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, depression or self-harm ideation
  • Inability to concentrate or perform familiar tasks, increased forgetfulness
  • Family members, friends and co-workers expressing concern about your well-being
  • Reliance on substances to cope, including medication

MANAGING BURNOUT

While the causes and signs above are not exhaustive and an expert diagnosis would be best, any combination or persistent experience may indicate that you are at risk of or already experiencing caregiver burnout. If so, it is time to pay more attention to your own well-being, take active steps towards managing it, or visit a medical professional.

Read on to find out how to prevent or recover from burnout and where you can get help as a caregiver to someone with mental health issues

If you know a caregiver and notice them exhibiting the above red flags, you can also learn how to provide support as a friend, family member or co-worker.

Want to know more? Here are the articles we referenced to compile this resource:

Caregiver stress and burnout

Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping With Stress

Caregiver stress

A Caregiver’s Guide to Coping with Stress and Burnout

Caregiver Stress – How to prevent burnout and deal with fatigue?

Step into the shoes of a caregiver
Explore our first multi-plot interactive video, A Quiet Ripple, that shows what a mental health caregiver might experience - from dilemmas, to a need for support. The choices you make will impact how the story ends. Experience it to better understand the lives of caregivers.

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Angela Wu

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