How to cope if you are the ‘caregiver’ for a family member

How to cope if you are the ‘caregiver’ for a family member

By Liz Lockhart

Family caregivers can experience high levels of stress, self-blame, substance abuse and depressive symptoms unless they lighten their load and refocus their priorities, according to a new study from Concordia University, AMI-Quebec and the University of British Columbia.

The lead author, Carsten Wrosch, a professor in the Concordia University Department of Psychology and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development says: ‘Being the principal caregiver to a mentally ill family member is a stress that often creates high levels of burden and contributes to depression symptoms.’

The investigation was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in May and it followed family caregivers over a 17 month period.  It found that those who reset their priorities do better.

Caregivers who can adjust important life goals such as career and holidays, cope better with the stress and this resilient process protects their emotional wellbeing, the research team expected.

Co-author, Ella Amir, a Concordia graduate and executive director at AMI-Quebec said: ‘We found participants who had an easier time abandoning goals blames themselves less frequently for problems associated with caregiving and used alcohol or drugs less frequently to regulate their emotions’.

AMI-Quebec is a grassro0ts organisation committed to helping families manage the effects of mental illness.

‘Avoiding self-blame and substance use, in turn, was associated with less caregiver burden and depressive symptoms’ Amir continued. ‘Being able to disengage from goals is protective against depressive symptoms, partly because it reduces the likelihood of coping through self-blame and substance use.’

‘Caregivers can become stretched too thin if they pursue too many goals and that may distract them from addressing stress levels that elevate their burden’ says Wrosch.

‘Pursuing new goals is a double-edged sword’ Wrosch added.  ‘It proides purpose but also increases caregiving burden, since there are times then a family member’s illness suddenly takes a turn for the worse.’

One hundred and twenty one people completed the study and most had cared for a relative for an average of 16 years.

The study found:

  • 78% of caregivers were women
  • 57% had received an undergraduate degree or higher
  • 73% were married or cohabiting with a partner
  • 41% had relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia
  • 37% had relatives diagnosed with a mood disorder
  • 22% had relatives diagnosed with other mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada all supported this work. 

Further help on depression

We hope you have found this information useful, please also see:


Your rating: None Average: 10 (2 votes)