The stress caregivers suffer can lead to feelings of hopelessness and cause some to neglect their own needs.
This stress fluctuates with circumstances, says Dr Tay Kai Hong, an associate consultant at the department of psychiatry at Sengkang General Hospital.
"However, when symptoms of caregiver stress become severe and protracted for more than a few weeks, the carer may have progressed to clinical depression," he adds.
They lose the ability to experience joy, which may be replaced by constant feelings of dread, drudgery, hopelessness and helplessness.
At this stage, it affects their usual eating, sleeping and working routine, as well as leisure activities and caregiving duties.
In more severe cases, suicidal thoughts may emerge, he says.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress include:
•Feelings of resentment
•Physical and emotional exhaustion
•Changes in sleep pattern and appetite
•Changes in mood - feeling low or irritable
•Reduced interest and motivation in daily tasks or obligations or leisure activities
•Neglecting yourself physically, nutritionally and emotionally
•Withdrawing from social contact
•Feeling that there is nothing to live for
Seek help if you suspect that you are clinically depressed or harbour suicidal thoughts, says Dr Tay.
"General mental health services, which are available in every major restructured hospital, can provide treatment and long-term support for struggling caregivers."
To manage caregiver stress, here are some things you can do, says Dr Tay.
• Take care of yourself first. Caring for yourself physically, nutritionally and emotionally allows you to provide sustainable care. Realise that you have your own needs and make a conscious effort to meet them.
•Focus on the positive emotions and experiences, and not just on the challenges. Some carers see their caregiving journey as the most fulfilling and rewarding endeavour in their lives.
•Appreciate the strengths and unique attributes of your intellectually disabled care recipient, and not just the impairment.
•Take a break - get support from your extended family. Know what respite services are available.
•Join a support group, find comfort and support from other "special parents" or caregivers, share tips and resources.
•Do some future care planning - yourself, or with the aid of professionals such as social workers and lawyers. Making care plans well in advance will reduce uncertainty and anxiety and provide peace of mind
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.