Caregivers...How is your mental health?

May 10, 2021

Elizz.com-Jane Vock

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Caregivers...How is your mental health?

My colleague *Jane wrote this beautiful piece I wanted to share:

The Canadian Mental Health Agency (CMHA) has identified this year’s theme as understanding emotions:  #Get Real About How You Feel. Name it, Don’t Numb it. Read on to learn more about a state called “languishing” and what you can do about it.

The power of labelling/naming

Heaven knows this pandemic is giving us ample opportunities to understand our emotions, as most of us are experiencing virtually every emotion that exists. This is completely normal and to be expected. In fact, a mentally healthy life includes the whole range of human emotions, even the more challenging and uncomfortable ones like sadness, fear and anger.  It’s not the feelings themselves that are the problem. It is numbing them, denying they are there, not labelling or naming them, that is more the problem.  It’s amazing just how much better we can feel by naming our feelings.

This pandemic and our mental health

It’s important to talk about this pandemic and our mental health, how we are emotionally and mentally.  The pandemic is having an impact on our mental health. People are experiencing unprecedented stress and anxiety and 40 % of Canadians have stated that their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.

The mental health of caregivers

I wonder about the mental health of caregivers, who have had to physically distance and reduce visits with their older parents, for example, or may have had severely restricted visits to no visits at all with loved ones in retirement homes and long-term care homes, and hospitals; or who have had to care for someone in the home with fewer resources and support available, like adult day programs.

Also, family caregivers typically provide emotional support to those they are caring for. That’s harder to do if your own emotional state isn’t great, if you are in this ‘blah’ mental health state. It is hard to support and emotionally prop up someone when we may need some propping up ourselves.

Feeling “blah”? Psychologists call it  “languishing”

We have talked about the pandemic in terms of anxiety , stress, and the importance of self-care. What we haven’t talked about is fatigue and what psychologists call “languishing”. In a brilliant New York Times article, the author, Adam Grant, refers to “languishing” as the “name for the blah you’re feeling”. It has also been referred to as the pervasive “bleh” that has accompanied the pandemic:

“It’s a feeling that we’re all too familiar with now: things are you know, fine. But not good. Things aren’t bad, necessarily. But they aren’t great either. It’s an overwhelming feeling of bleh.”

Is this you? These feelings were immediately recognizable to me when I first read about “languishing”. I felt better knowing I now had a name for these vague feelings. I was then able to let go of some guilt about not being more resilient or as productive as usual (I dare not tell you how long it has taken to write this blog!).

Whether you are a full-time or part-time or casual caregiver, it’s important to bring the impact of the pandemic out into the light. #Get Real About How You Feel. Name it, Don’t Numb it. This can help us feel better and can help reduce or eliminate negative feelings like guilt or feelings of inadequacy if you are finding it harder to extend yourself to those you are caring for, or are finding it harder to do so with the same level of motivation and empathy.

Signs and symptoms of languishing

  • Reduced interest in life
  • Lack of sense of purpose and fulfillment
  • Expressing fewer positive emotions and more negative ones
  • The simple pleasures of life have lost their meaning
  • Functioning below one’s potential (everywhere-at work, home, socially)
  • You just feel “blah/bleh”

Languishing is not depression

These signs and symptoms might suggest you are depressed, a diagnosable mental illness. Languishing, however, is not the same as depression. It doesn’t include feeling hopeless, for example, and hopelessness is a common symptom of depression. While you may not be getting the most out of life (again, during a pandemic, who is?), you are not necessarily depressed.

What to do if you are languishing

  • First, acknowledge it. Name it. It’s remarkable how being able to give the feeling a name can help, especially if you have been feeling guilty about being less productive and being more negative than usual.
  • Make honest connections with others. We can all do our bit in removing the stigma of talking about mental health. If you aren’t feeling fine, don’t betray yourself and say you are!
  • Take care of the body. You know the drill- eat healthy, exercise daily, get enough sleep, and spend some time in nature (Vitamin N!).
  • Be kind and gentle with yourself if you are not being as productive or energized as usual. You are doing the best you can. If you are beating yourself up, it may be time for a self-compassion break.
  • Consider accessing online help. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a free mental health coaching and online video program called BounceBack. This program is for adults and youth 15 plus, who are experiencing low mood, mild or moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry. Another option is Anxiety Canada’s app, Mindshift, that provides Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) support for anxiety, with journals and guided meditations. Finally, you can also visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal for resources, support and access to free counselling. You do not have to have a clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety to benefit from this coaching, counselling and online support. It can help with languishing!

Are you languishing? Flourishing? Find out for yourself

Below is the Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC-SF) , a self-reported scale you may be interested in taking. There are 14 questions, and these questions are ranked on a six-level score (score range 0-5: every day, almost every day, about 2 or 3 times a week, about once a week, once or twice, or never).  The maximum score is 70. Here is how to score your answers.:

Languishing mental health: the response “once or twice” or “never” to questions 1 to 3 AND “once or twice” or “never” to at least 6 of the remaining 11 questions (4 to 14).

Flourishing mental health: the response “almost every day” or “every day” to questions 1 to 3 And “almost every day” or “every day” to at least 6 of remaining 11 questions (4 to 14).

All the rest of the responses would be rated as “moderate mental health”, i.e., mental health is neither flourishing nor languishing.

Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC-SF)

Emotional well-being

How often in the past month (every day, almost every day, about 2 or 3 times a week, about once a week, once or twice, or never) did you feel …
1. happy?
2. interested in life?
3. satisfied with your life?

Positive functioning

How often during the past month (every day, almost every day, about 2 or 3 times a week, about once a week, once or twice, or never)

did you feel …
4. that you had something important to contribute to society? (social contribution)
5. that you belonged to a community (like a social group, your neighbourhood, your city, your school)? (social integration)
6. that our society is becoming a better place for people like you? (social growth)
7. that people are basically good? (social acceptance)
8. that the way our society works makes sense to you? (social coherence)
9. that you liked most parts of your personality? (self-acceptance)
10. good at managing the responsibilities of your daily life? (environmental mastery)
11. that you had warm and trusting relationships with others? (positive relationship with others)
12. that you had experiences that challenged you to grow and become a better person? (personal growth)
13. confident to think or express your own ideas and opinions? (autonomy)
14. that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it? (purpose in life)

Source: Keyes

*Jane Vock is a social worker with over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples and families. For the last 15 years, her passion and focus has been helping to improve the lives of caregivers and their families.

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