Does Being an MS Caregiver Cause Mental Health Problems?

You may feel like it sometimes, but being an MS caregiver does not endanger one’s sanity. In fact, as a caregiver, you probably have no more reason to worry about your sanity than any other person.

I’ll explain why after I share a summary of a 2001 abstract I’ve just read titled, “Being a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Caregiver: an Important Impact on Health Status”, by Aymerich/Jovell available on the website of the National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine.

The study included 705 patients and 551 caregivers from 9 hospitals and was completed during a three year period from 1997 to 2000. The MS patients were mostly 40-ish year old, married females. 78% had the relapsing/remitting form of MS and had had the disease an average of 6 years.

The caregivers averaged 45 years old and were almost split evenly in terms of gender (51% female). They had lived with the MS patient for a mean of 11 years and were giving care for 3 hours per day.

Among the MS caregivers, 16% were taking a psychotropic medication or receiving psychotherapy. 147 of the caregivers (21%) had a score on one of the administered tests of a “probable mental disorder”. The conclusion of the study is that being an MS caregiver has an impact on one’s health, especially on mental health.

Does being an MS caregiver impact your mental health? Yes.

But so does the general stress of life.

While being a caregiver can cause moments of stress, caregiving per se does not cause stress.

In fact, being a caregiver can be seen as one’s particular calling and actually give one peace. For example, I visited with a friend in the post office today who is excited about her future as a professional caregiver. Her children are grown and on their own. Now she’s back in college studying to become a geriatric nurse. Her statement that I liked most, “I like brushing hair and helping an older patient feel special.”

So, while the study mentioned above may cause you concern when you read that 16% of the MS caregivers were taking psychotropic medications or receiving psychotherapy and that 21% may have had a probable mental disorder, fear not!

In terms of mental health, MS caregivers in the study were actually doing better than the general population!

According to “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, “surveys estimate that during a 1-year period, 22 to 23 percent of the U.S. adult population—or 44 million people—have diagnosable mental disorders, according to reliable, established criteria.”

One can manipulate numbers to support any position, but the 21% of caregivers mentioned in the study is less than the 22 to 23% of the U.S. adult population having diagnosable mental disorders. Stressed out or not, we’re holding our own!

What does this all mean? Two things:

1. Being an MS caregiver will have an impact on your mental health. Pay attention to your mental health.

2. Life as an adult in the United States will have an impact on your mental health. Pay attention to your mental health.

Caregiver Tip: Pay attention to your mental health in the same way you do your physical and emotional health. When viewed as a calling, caregiving offers a fulfilling purpose in life.

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