Mandy could be you or it could be me. Mandy is not a real person but she could be. She could be anyone you know who is caring for a relative. Mandy’s father has dementia and is cared for by her mother. Mandy is 48 and has a partner and two teenage boys. Mandy finds it helpful to meet with a Counselling Psychologist every two weeks to gain psychological support and understanding about dementia’s influence in her family. Each month I will bring you some ideas that arise from our conversations. I hope that Mandy will inspire you to ask questions of your own, receive some helpful information and prompt discussion with friends, family and helping professionals.
She’s burying her head in the sand
This week, Mandy is worried that her mother is not coping, that her mother is stressed and that she is at risk of ‘burn out’. Yet when she tries to bring up the idea of her mother asking for help, she is met with, ‘I’m fine’, ‘No need to worry’ and ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
She describes her mother as, ‘burying her head in the sand’ a useful description of not wanting to notice something that is in front of you, often because it is too painful to really see. Mandy thinks that the only way for her mother to accept help would be if a crisis occurred, by that, she means her father having a fall and physically requiring more care than her mother could offer.
Mandy and I explored various ideas around what prevents someone from seeking help when they most need it. In this context it is an interesting question, especially because older people do not readily access psychological therapy when they are a group most at need and according to research respond better to talking therapy than do younger people.
I shared with Mandy that sometimes it’s helpful to consider someone’s beliefs around seeking help. We explored these beliefs from three different contexts or perspectives:
Generational beliefs – Mandy described her mother as ‘stoic’ and of the ‘stiff upper lip’ generation. This idea most likely stems from older people who lived through war and adverse times and had a shared belief that there was not time to dwell on emotions or feelings. Practicalities came first above all else. To show emotion meant weakness.
Personal beliefs about failure – we all live with the fear of not doing well at something. Be it early on in our lives at school or in our relationships with work and family we receive messages that there is little room for error. We are driven by an idea that others may judge us for not being perfect and caring for our relatives is no different. Mandy thought that her mother worried that if she asked for help, other people would judge her as, ‘not being a good wife and not doing a good job in her role as carer.’
Finally, Mandy thought that there were some beliefs from the family that were preventing her mother from asking for help. Mandy’s own grandfather had been cared for by her grandmother and so there was an expected assumption that in this family you cared for your spouse. Ideas about duty are strong within this family and so Mandy’s mother continues to struggle in the hope that she upholds the family mantle.
We all make choices about caring for our loved ones and the help that we ask or don’t ask for. How we approach it is often influenced by our beliefs around caring. Ask yourself which beliefs around caring you are influenced by and how this impacts your caring relationships.
Written by Rebecca Corney cpsychol. AFBPsS
At High Linden, we are a dedicated team of HCPC registered Counselling and Clinical Psychologists, led by Rebecca Corney. We provide psychological assessment and psychological interventions for adults experiencing a range of psychological problems.
We specialise in offering a bespoke service to older people or those experiencing age related difficulties including dementia. We work with individuals, couple and families and can meet you in our clinic in North west London or at your home. To find out more, visit our website here.