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The Power of Positive Thinking

Training caregivers of patients with cancer to recognize the value in the work could lead to happier mental health outcomes.

BY Jane Hill
PUBLISHED June 19, 2013

In the Netherlands, for example, researchers tracked the mental health of caregivers for 148 patients with colorectal cancer. They examined the impact of four pressures that can strain mental health, including financial burden and diminished physical ability, and one positive measure that could boost mental health: self-esteem derived from the activity of caregiving. The researchers checked in with the caregivers shortly after the patients’ surgeries, three months later and again six months after the patients were released from the hospital. The researchers found that at the end of each period, some of the caregivers sustained a better quality of life, which they attributed to a boost in self-esteem derived from caregiving. More important, the impact of higher self-esteem derived from caregiving contributes "significantly" to lower levels of depression, the authors found.

The study concluded that caregivers’ mental health depends more on how they perceive their care tasks and less on the amount or intensity of the care tasks. Training caregivers to recognize the value in the work could lead to happier mental health outcomes.

While caregivers look after their patients' needs, they often ignore their own stress and neglect their own health, putting themselves at risk for illness or depression.

Realizing that potential, social scientists decided to study the experiences of caregivers and drill down to identify shared attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that allow some caregivers to thrive while others do not. Scientists call the ability to find positive meaning or change in a traumatic life event "benefit finding." One goal of these studies is to help professionals identify early and accurately caregivers who are likely to find benefit and others who may need support.

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