One in five American adults are unpaid caregivers to someone in their life, whether that be a friend with special needs, an elderly parent or some other loved one who needs care. With so much time spent caring for others, caregivers' own total health becomes less of a priority, with their mental and physical needs often falling by the wayside.
November is Family Caregivers Month, a perfect moment to recognize caregivers' dedication – and sacrifice – and offer them a helping hand, just like they do with others.
A Caregivers Experience
Caregiving can be a demanding and stressful experience that looks different to each person. One thing is certain: caring for a loved one often impacts a caregiver’s personal obligations.
A caregiver’s role is one that requires a flexible schedule, which can be difficult when simultaneously balancing other aspects of life. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s research report, Caregiving in the U.S., 70% of employed caregivers reported suffering work-related difficulties due to their dual roles, and 60% of caregivers had to make changes in their work schedules overall. In some situations, they may have to miss days from work to handle a health emergency or because there is simply no one else there. This group also tends to miss more time from work than their counterparts.
According to CVS Health and The Harris Poll survey data, caregiving can also significantly impact a person's mental health. The survey showed that 49% of American adults who identified as caregivers have said their mental health has suffered from being a caregiver. Having to make sacrifices in their personal lives can also lead to deteriorating mental health. With 45% of respondents also having said they spend less time participating in their hobbies and 28% reporting having formed unhealthy lifestyle habits (such as eating poorly or drinking more) due to caregiving, recognizing and addressing the issue is of utmost importance.
Whether becoming a caregiver by choice or due to situational circumstances, they face several challenges, from physical and emotional stressors to financial burdens, which can grow into more significant issues if not addressed. We can all foster and create a network to help those caring for some of our most vulnerable.
Getting Caregivers the Right Support
There are several positive aspects of caregiving. For instance, a caregiver may discover new purpose, enjoy giving back and appreciate closer ties or improved relationships. However, for a full-time caregiver, stepping away from responsibilities can also feel daunting. Support from employers, loved ones or the community can alleviate burdens and encourage caregivers to prioritize their well-being in tandem with their caregiving role. This support can materialize in various forms:
Chances are that everyone knows at least one caregiver in their life. This is why we must work to provide a sense of connectedness, understanding and appreciation, as well as viable resources to best assist this growing population. Together, we can ensure that those caring for others are also cared for.
Written by Cara McNulty, DPA, President of Behavioral Health and Mental Well-being, CVS Health, and Taft Parsons III, MD, Vice President and Chief Psychiatric Officer, CVS Health.