Burnout

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Before I had my sons, I was a professional child and family therapist. During my graduate studies, we often discussed burnout as a therapist and tools to try and avoid it as best as possible. Today, as a full time lone carer to my severely disabled teenage son with profound medical care needs, I am experiencing burnout. 

What are some of the signs of burnout? 

Here’s the way it was described in one recent article in the Irish Times:

  • There is no such thing as a good day
  • You’re constantly exhausted
  • You’ve unexplained aches and pains
  • You’ve lost interest in all the things you used to enjoy
  • You feel helpless, trapped and alone
  • Nothing lifts your spirits
  • Loss of motivation
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • You feel constantly angry, frustrated and resentful
  • The future looks bleak

As I read over that list of warning signs, and tick pretty much every single box – as I’m sure many full time carers can do, too – I feel compelled to write this blog piece as a way to get more conversation started on what can be done to help carers like me continue with the work we do every day.

A recent study by Family Carers Ireland showed the following from their survey:

  • 2/3 feel their health has suffered as a result of being a carer
  • Over 2/3 suffer with physical ill health
  • 1 in 3 have a diagnosis of depression
  • 4 in 10 have a diagnosis of anxiety
  • 71% have no access to respite

There has also been discussion in the press recently of burnout amongst the medical professionals in Ireland due to our failing health system and the appalling shortage of consultants. Last year it was revealed that 1 in 3 hospital doctors experience burnout.

Burnout amongst the caring professions – and I include those of us who are full time family carers of our disabled loved ones – is an extremely serious concern that must be addressed.

Carers like me are the first line of care to keep our fragile children out of hospital. Our work is crucial. We literally keep our child alive with the medical interventions we do.

We are entrusted with complex medical care, often on a 24/7 basis for days, weeks, months on end, which including measuring and administering life saving medications, clearing airways, seizure rescue, monitoring of heart rate and oxygen, care of open wounds, and so much more.

If we burnout, what happens to that intensive, daily care we provide and what happens to the one we are caring for? (please re-read that all-important question)

As with the physicians who are experiencing burnout, there is only one answer to that question: The quality of care ultimately suffers. 

A perfect storm, as it could be called, is brewing in Ireland. One where full time carers like me are burning out and the doctors are also burning out. What saddens (and angers) me most about that fact is not the list of burnout symptoms above which I go through on a daily basis, but knowing that, at the end of the day, it is the patients, the loved ones, the fragile children, whose lives depend on the best care possible to remain healthy and indeed alive, that are most at risk because of burnout.

It is past time that the government listen to all of us crying out for reforms.

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