Understanding Caregiver Mental Health

Caregiver Mental Health

Caregiver mental health is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Understanding caregiver mental health and taking steps to protect it will go a long way in creating a better experience for all involved. Giving a voice to fear and anxiety makes it possible for caregivers to reach out for help more freely.

Caregivers have higher levels of stress than non-caregivers

Let’s talk about caregiver mental health. While caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, it can also be very stressful. Caring for a loved one is not usually a short-term commitment. As a matter of fact, the average length of a caregiver’s role is 4 years (Family Caregiver’s Alliance Report). Because caregiving tends to be a long-term commitment, the emotional impact can build over time. The daily demands of caregiver responsibilities can be especially discouraging if you feel unprepared for the task. The feeling that there’s no hope your loved one will get better can leave you feeling helpless.

Common Symptoms of Caregiver Stress

  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Increase in unhealthy habits (drinking, smoking, or eating more)
  • New or worsening health issues
  • Overreacting to small things
  • Trouble focusing
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Social isolation

Caregiver Stress May Look Different Based on Age

It’s safe to say that all caregivers feel stress, and many caregivers struggle with mental health. But it’s hard to lump all family caregivers into one category. Caregiving is something that happens in many stages of life. According to AARP Caregiving in the US 2020, family caregivers look like this:

Though family caregivers face many of the same challenges, each generation’s needs can be quite different. Each demographic struggles with mental health in a unique way. For example, though most caregivers report feeling lonely or isolated, isolation for Millennial and Gen Z caregivers may look different than the isolation older caregivers experience.

Challenges Young Caregivers Face

Young caregivers face a unique set of challenges. Not only does caring for a loved one affect day-to-day life, but it can greatly impact planning for a career/the future. Younger caregivers often experience a loss of friends and social life. The carefree nature associated with youth is no longer an option. In addition to providing care, younger caregivers are likely working full-time and may be caring for their own young families. In a 2018 report, more than half of employed Millennial caregivers said caregiving responsibilities negatively affected work life. They reported going in to work late, leaving early, or cutting back on hours. The AARP report also found that Gen X and Millennial caregivers were more likely to receive performance/attendance warnings, be turned down for promotions, or stop working entirely compared to Baby Boomers. As with older caregivers, the practice of self-care generally takes a back seat.

Challenges Older Caregivers Face

Older caregivers, on the other hand, often experience social isolation differently. Older caregivers are more likely to be retired and lack workplace interaction. They may not be as technically savvy as their younger counterparts, limiting opportunities to access support. COVID has significantly impacted this demographic socially. Many social activities and outlets have been suspended or moved to virtual formats. Additionally, day and respite programs may not be accessible due to a variety of factors. Additionally, the need for physical distance limits the help caregivers receive from family and friends. The nationwide shortage of paid caregivers sometimes limits options for accessing help as well.

The Common Thread: Compromised Caregiver Mental Health

Regardless of how a caregiver is experiencing stress, loneliness, and isolation, it all leads back to the same place. Compromised caregiver mental health. A June 2020 CDC report based on a nationwide survey about the types of mental health challenges people are facing during the pandemic revealed a startling trend. It found that nearly 31 percent of the 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the US reported seriously considering suicide in the preceding 30 days, compared with 11 percent of the other adults taking the survey who were not caregivers. Estimates show that up to 70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. As many as half of those caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

How to Prevent Compromised Mental Health

Practice self-care first

You can’t provide good care unless you care for yourself first, so be intentional about checking in with yourself daily. When something isn’t right. Fix it or seek help. For a gentle, daily reminder, download our printable “Caregiver’s Bill of Rights” by Jo Horne.

Ask for help

Asking for help from others is difficult, but sharing the responsibility can help avoid burnout. Ideally, the family will pitch in. If not, seek respite or daycare programs or consider hiring help.

Be realistic about your loved one’s illness and prognosis.

Prepare for what is ahead by educating yourself about your loved one’s illness. Assess your skill set and decide what you will do/learn to do yourself and what you will seek help with.

Use respite services

This warrants a second mention. Respite services give a break to caregivers and can last from a few hours to a few days. Respite can be provided by family/friends, but it can also be found through agencies and/or community programs. Taking a break is great self-care!

Find emotional support

Having the ability to express yourself is so important! Who can you talk to? Family, a trusted friend, a support group, your faith leader, or a therapist are all good options. *If you are in crisis, always seek professional help.

Are You in Crisis? Help is Available

Are you a caregiver struggling with mental health, depression, or thoughts of suicide? You are not alone and you do not have to suffer in silence. If you or someone you know needs emergency assistance, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Find more help at www.nami.org.

Disclaimer: The content on this site is meant for general informational purposes and should not be considered professional advice. While we strive for accuracy, we recommend consulting experts for specific guidance. We are not responsible for any decisions made based on this information.

Liz Craven
Liz Craven

Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide alongside her husband Wes, brings a blend of personal experience and heartfelt dedication to her work. Their path in eldercare started with a family story — caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who faced Alzheimer's. This personal chapter not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also ignited their passion to support others in similar situations. Later, Liz and Wes filled the caregiver role three more times for their parents. Through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, Liz offers a mix of empathetic insight and practical advice, making eldercare more approachable and less daunting for families. Her commitment shines through in every piece of advice, aiming to ease the journey for others as they navigate the world of eldercare.

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