Allies in Recovery: Use and Overuse of Collateral Support

Burnout exists among practitioners & caregivers for those carrying a mental health diagnosis. Our allies, collateral contacts, and both natural and artificial supports are all susceptible to burnout. This presentation is designed to prevent and disrupt behaviors which contribute to burnout among people working with psychiatric disabilities. In doing so, burnout will be evaluated two fold: 1) caregiver burnout, & 2) practitioner burnout, for the purpose of improving continuity of care and uninterrupted service delivery by systems of care, family members, and organizations which provide mental health treatment. This article follows the assumption that when burnout decreases among allies in recovery, the quality of life of people carrying a mental health diagnosis will improve.

There are several stages of burnout. Each stage is visible to a third party vested in the care of people with psychiatric disabilities and to the consumer receiving services. Not only is burnout visible, it is a visceral sensation to the person experiencing this symptom and product of inadequate self-care, self-awareness and tolerance of extreme exhaustion and repetition of behaviors, circumstances, and unfortunate turns in a person’s recovery. Burnout is experienced in several ways by caregivers and practitioners. All allies in the recovery process can be victims of burnout but in most cases, it is very much preventable with experience in practicing mental health treatment and with access to psyhoeducation of their family members diagnosis.

In my recovery, I have observed burnout among my treatment team. It is painful to watch especially knowing I might have contributed to the problem. While some might term this self-awareness, no such feelings should be experienced by consumers, and therefore, it isn’t a question of depth of client insight into their own behaviors. Instead, consumers can focus on their own feelings without having to worry about the emotional state of their treatment team. I am not suggesting abusing your staff, therapist or otherwise, but instead the focus of your treatment shouldn’t include the biases and insecurities of your workers. Enough focus, consideration, and insight will need to be cultivated by consumers to work on their own stuff.

I have also observed burnout among family members and friends with a vested interest in my mental health treatment. I have seen friends abandon my journey, and walk away because it was just too difficult. When unpacking the negative patterns that contribute to burnout among friends and family, it is important to consider age, maturity, education, and resources available to the ally to continue investing in their loved one or friend whom may not be able to produce for themselves. People carrying a diagnosis may or may not be able contribute in the same way their healthy counterparts do in various areas of the social & interpersonal landscape allies journey alongside their peers struggling with a diagnosis.

Simply put, healthy clinicians and healthy family members will provide better treatment and care to their loved ones. It is demoralizing for people carrying a diagnosis to work towards their recovery and feel as though their are a burden at the same time they are seeking out help. Healthy workers are less likely to abuse or mistreat people carrying a mental health diagnosis or take out their personal problems on vulnerable groups that are institutionalized. The benefits are without bounds, but ultimately, it is the quality of life of people carrying the diagnosis that is most critical in improving.

Burnout is a temporary symptom. It may signal to some workers to seek work in another field, but it should also gesture to the profession that without proper administration of treatment delivery, expecting positive outcomes in care & hiring or retaining staff who has the skills to provide treatment without collapsing is irrational and unlikely without further research into self-care practices and best practice in mental health health care. We need to continue researching, from both the peer perspective, & the professional lens, how burnout can be prevented without clients experiencing harm from staff or negligent family members that have had enough of caregiving for their family members due to an increase in uncontrolled symptoms or otherwise.


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