Caregiver Juggles Responsibilities in Effort to Educate on Mental Health Issues
MCALLEN - Most of the time people in the caregiver role for those suffering from mental health issues end up sacrificing their own wellbeing.
One McAllen woman spends her days working to educate the public on mental health issues, educating children and caring for her son.
Stephanie Contreras does daily tasks for her advocacy work. She said she’s able to take on the task of a teacher, advocate, choir director and caregiver.
“Without fail somebody will be in a crisis, so I don’t dare not answer the phone,” she said. “A normal day runs… I have half an hour lunch from 10:30 to 11a.m., and I’ll answer voice messages and texts during that time while I’m eating.”
But most importantly, Contreras said she’s a mother. She is the sole caregiver of her 36-year-old son, Ralph. Contreras took Ralph to his first day as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.
“I think this is a good chance for me to help me and stuff, and maybe get some experience or something,” he said.
It was the first time Ralph got to use his skills after graduating with an architectural drafting degree.
Ralph was diagnosed with schizopsychosis at a young age. Contreras said he’s the reason behind all her advocacy work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI.
Ralph was 16 when he suffered his first complete psychotic episode. Contreras said he had rapid pressure speech.
“At that point the officers came into the waiting room and called his name, told him to stand up and put him in handcuffs and started walking him out of the door,” she said.
Contreras said Ralph was distraught as he was being walked outside of the hospital.
“He said, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong mom, please tell ‘em I didn’t do anything wrong. Mom, if I did something wrong I’m sorry. They don’t understand me,’” she said.
Contreras said Ralph also suffers from symptoms from his illness. She said her son recently missed an important appointment with the diabetes clinic due to not having a ride.
“His particular disorder is a thought disorder. So being disorganized in his thoughts is part of his illness… I can’t always count on him reminding me of things,” she said.
Contreras is constantly multi-tasking from conference calls to meeting every day. She said sometimes Ralph can feel the pull.
“So I try to be attentive to him and be sure that he doesn’t get squeezed out by all the phone calls and texts. But it is my life line to helping other people,” she said.
Anytime she has to take half a day off of work, she said she has to pay for it. Contreras said she’s not the only one having to make these sacrifices. She said families are constantly quitting their jobs to care for their family.
Family caregivers can experience loss in wages and other work benefits due to changes in their work patterns.
“It’s very difficult and I have a lot of family members that give up and they quit work or they get fired because they’ve missed so much,” she said.
The out-of-pocket expense for caregivers is nearly $7,000, according to the family caregiving and out-of-pocket costs report by AARP.
Contreras said some days it becomes too much for her.
“There are many times where I want to crawl into the bed, put the cover over my head and say, ‘world go away!’” she said.
Many caregivers have a significant amount of physical and psychological health effects also. They can suffer higher levels of anxiety and inadequate time for sleep or self-care, according to the American Psychological Association.
Although Contreras endures through it all, she said her purpose is to help those who need a voice.
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