May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Is for Cancer Caregivers

May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Is for Cancer Caregivers

May 2020-2021

Graphic of Mental Health Awareness

During May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Here To Serve joins the countrywide movement to bring awareness to mental health. For over 60 years, beginning in 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month promotes awareness and instills the importance of mental health wellness. This to support a continuing fight to provide resources and tools to those fighting mental illness. The American Counseling Association states that 1 in 5 people suffer, or will suffer, from some form of mental illness or emotional trauma. We at Here To Serve want to provide our own nuanced perspective on how fighting cancer impacts physical health and affects the person’s emotional health, and more specifically, that of caregivers.

Your mind matters graphicThe Toll on Mothers as Caregivers

Often, the caregiving burden of caring for a family and a child suffering from cancer falls squarely on a mother’s shoulders. Mothers, particularly modern-day mothers who work and handle homecare, are superheroes. They think they can do everything, and to their credit, many times they do, but at what cost? It is enough of a sacrifice to be a mother in normal circumstances. Still, it is something else entirely, of which there is no template for, to undertake caregiving for a family with a sick child. It is a feat of which belongs to the likes of the heroes of the Bible.

Without question, going through a battle for life in a fight with cancer is physically and emotionally painful and draining. However, imagine being a loved one – a husband, wife, mother, or father – watching a spouse or child fight for their life and be in excruciating pain. It is a debilitating feeling knowing you can’t do anything for your loved one’s pain. All you can do is watch, hope, and pray that the pain goes away; that might even include praying and hoping that the pain is taken away by the person passing on. That is the position many caregivers find themselves in. It is an unfathomable state of mind to hope for death as a solution. The toll on their mental health is profound.

Mental health awareness graphic
It Takes a Village to Bring Someone Through Cancer

To say that it takes mental gymnastics to journey through the path of caring for a child in a critical or terminal condition is an egregious understatement. As much as they, particularly mothers, may try and think they can do and be everything for their child, one person cannot possibly do this alone. As a wise proverb has stated, “it takes a village.” Does having a support system remove the trauma and the pain a caregiver and their loved one are going through? Frankly, it is impossible to do so. However, a caregiver who knows that they have people around to support them, not only takes the pressure off the overwhelming responsibilities that caregiving can present, but can also relieve them in ways that their mind and emotions desperately crave.

Yes, taking over responsibilities for a caregiver so they can be with their loved one certainly helps.  Sitting with them in their struggle – i.e., watching a movie, talking, playing games, telling jokes, sharing a meal – does an uncanny amount of good for a caregiver’s mental wellbeing and can also translate to their physical wellbeing. Often, a person’s mental and emotional strain from being overwhelmed with too many responsibilities can lead to negligence of their physical health: not exercising, not eating right, not sleeping, etc. If a person is happier and more content, they are inclined to treat themselves better because they feel better about themselves.

Seeking Professional CounselingSymptoms of poor mental health

It can certainly be a solution to tell a caregiver that they need to see a counselor or someone to talk about what they are going through. For some, it is the right and only solution because a counselor can speak into a situation more honestly than friends and can avoid the backlash that can happen between friends. It takes time to develop that type of depth of relationship with a counselor.

Sometimes people are innately more willing to open up to those who know them better or people who have been through the same journey than someone who is still getting to know them. In many cases, a friend knows a person better than a counselor or a trained professional does. What can happen is folks are either not ready or don’t have the resources to pay for what many consider non-critical professional mental health care. Others simply do not have the time, so they suffer in silence, which leads to depression.

Here to Serve Cares for the CaregiverChild with cancer touching noises with a kitten

The reality is, Here To Serve can fill in gaps for caregivers. A Care Community will advocate for a caregiver’s mental and emotional wellbeing without the price of a licensed counselor. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Here To Serve’s mission is to reduce stress and strain and improve cancer caregivers’ mental health and wellness. Here to Serve provides tangible support with meals, housecleaning, financial aid, logistics, child and pet care, and so much more. No sophisticated degree of higher education is necessary to be an empathetic support to someone who desperately needs it.

By Bryan Quintas