Another Resource for Caregivers! An Interview with Kristi Horner, Founder of Courage to Caregivers

Date Posted

February 17, 2022

Author

Photo of Kristi Horner

By Denise Brady

Supporting someone with mental illness is a long, winding and challenging journey that can take its toll on the health and wellbeing of the caregiver.  While there are support groups for people with mental illness, caregivers are often unrecognized, undervalued and may feel alone and lost. Kristi Horner, Founder and Executive Director of Courage to Caregivers, discussed her experience supporting her younger brother who suffered from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why is caregiving for people with mental health conditions an important topic for you?

In 2010, I received a call from my younger brother that no sister ever wants to receive – my brother shared that he wanted to end his life. What followed were four very challenging years for my sisters and I providing his mental and emotional support.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was his primary mental illness caregiver. He lost his battle with mental illness to suicide in 2014. We learned a lot about caring for someone we loved with mental illness, and knew there had to be a better way to support mental illness caregivers.

I have a heart for caregivers.  Caregivers are an essential part of the care team for those living with mental illness.  Caregivers may feel unappreciated and alone. I had “lost myself” during that time.  I poured every ounce of myself into trying to “save” my brother – from himself and his mental illness.

What are the biggest challenges facing caregivers today?

The stress of caregiving is literally killing caregivers. The stress of caregiving has been found to take ten years off a caregiver’s life. While we can’t remove the stress of caregiving, we can empower caregivers towards greater resilience and overall health and well-being. We can provide tools to better cope and manage the stress of caregiving. It’s simple – when you take better care of yourself – you provide better care to those in your care.

Caregivers are strong and resilient – and do hard things every day. During a caregiving “crisis” – those highest moments of caregiving stress – caregivers often find it difficult to remember all of the tools they have in their Courage Toolkits.  They forget all that they know about what’s in their control (or not), how to have healthy boundaries, and how to stop the negative self-talk.

Tell us a little bit about Courage for Caregivers’ support groups and what makes them special?

All three of our programs remind caregivers about all of the tools in their Courage Toolkits – and give them permission (to then give themselves permission) to dust them off and use them.  Our support groups are more like group coaching sessions. They’re staffed by licensed clinicians, supported by peer support volunteers, and follow a curriculum of our own design with 12 themes and 52 topics all focused on building tools of resilience. We utilize a goal-setting framework to gently support caregivers in having a hope-centered, future-thinking, growth mindset. We’re focused on a caregivers personal growth journey in order to prevent caregiver burnout.

What are you looking forward to sharing with families during the February 17th live interactive event with Families for Depression Awareness?

It takes a lot of courage for a caregiver to accept that they’re struggling and reach out for support. No one should take the journey of caregiving alone. If a caregiver feels “stuck” in their personal growth – it’s about just starting. Taking one step today to support their future self. Again, mental illness caregivers are strong and do hard things every day – having a strong support network is just one important tool to navigate this.  That’s where Families for Depression Awareness and Courage to Caregivers fits in!