by Ethan Yamashita, Tatiana Astrahan, Jason Anderson, Jay Heo, and Carman Ho, University of Washington – Bothell School of Business

Caregiver burnout is real, and especially relevant during the pandemic’s continual isolation for many. When we met Samantha Wong (Sam), she told us how when trying to help a family member, “Theresa” navigate her mental illness, she herself began to struggle with depression and anxiety.

Theresa showed numerous symptoms of mental illness long before her official diagnosis; Sam shared vivid examples of Theresa’s behavior, from being scared of the color purple, to throwing away all of her possessions to encouraging her to drive recklessly. “All these things just didn’t make sense,” Sam told us, the experiences still fresh in her mind. 

Due to stigma, Sam’s family was understandably initially hesitant to consider mental illness as the reason behind her actions and initially unprepared to provide the care Theresa needed, due to lack of experience and information.

Her responsibility to Theresa weighed heavily on Sam’s mind. At any given moment, Sam felt that she had to be ready to monitor Theresa’s mood and intervene. Sam remembers having “small PTSD attacks,” waking up in the middle of the night, thinking Theresa was calling for her. Sam believes this stress and anxiety led to her depression. She remembered months where she would cry without any knowledge of why she was upset. “The only thing I could do was work,” Sam explained.

Because her hard work was effective for grad school,  Sam took up a second job with the hopes that it would help her depressive and anxiety symptoms become less noticeable. But overwork did not address her feelings, nor did becoming busier alleviate the stress of her responsibilities as a caregiver. Though she was hesitant at first, Sam decided to seek other options, including a psychiatrist who helped her open up about her situation and gave her antidepressants. Now she no longer requires the medication, to keep her symptoms at bay, but her experience trying to confront her depression head-on versus receiving help from others gave her new perspective and appreciation for what Theresa has gone through.

Thanks to NAMI support groups, Sam began to help Theresa get the care she needed and also to help understand her loved one’s illness. On the importance of NAMI Seattle’s free support and stigma-busting outreach groups, Sam says, “I think there is improved [attitudes] of mental health in the Asian [American] community as we become more educated. I can see the small changes in my parents that have had to deal with my sister. They are not perfect but they also at least admit mental illness is real instead of blaming the person.”

Sam’s lived experience in caring for Theresa and in learning to identify with her through her own experiences in living with depression gave her a new perspective of people and their personal circumstances. Sam wants to continually fight the stigma about mental illness by sharing her own experiences with depression. She hopes that in being open with her own mental health, that she will encourage others to seek help and mental health support as she has.

To learn more about NAMI Seattle’s free support groups like the one that helped Sam’s family, see here.

If you would like to learn more about different opportunities to involved in NAMI Seattle, please see here to volunteer. NAMI Seattle relies on generous donations from the community to keep free educational and support programming available to families like Sam’s. If you would like to help support NAMI Seattle financially, please donate here.

This piece was a collaboration between UW Bothell School of Business students in Professor Laura Umetsu‘s Business Writing Course and NAMI Seattle. Special thanks to Jasmine Bager for her help in coaching the students in online storytelling.