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When someone is in need of care, they often turn to a parent, child, sibling, loved one or friend for support. Being a caregiver can be special and rewarding, but it also comes with its unique challenges – obstacles that emphasize caregivers’ need for a personal support system.

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:

  • Encouraging caregivers to prioritize their health: It is important to tackle everyday stressors early and preventively before they become chronic mental health concerns, like depression, anxiety or substance misuse. While it is understandable that caring for a family member or loved one can be taxing, encouraging caregivers to carve out time to focus on their physical and mental well-being is equally important.
  • How to be a source of support: Create – or join – a network of friends and family to aid caregivers, even with seemingly simple tasks like food shopping or running an important errand. Doing so can offer a reprieve to those feeling overwhelmed, making their day more manageable. When possible, offer a lending hand, even offering to fill in at times so they can have time to prioritize themselves, and create a safe space to ensure the caregivers in your life are reaching out for support when in need. Trust that this can make a significant difference.
  • Share available resources: In the workplace, employers can highlight what’s available for caregivers to prioritize their own needs, reminding them that their workplace stands behind them. Solutions like CVS Health’s Resources for Living™, for example, can provide in-the-moment counseling and help with daily life assistance for things like home services, cleaning and food and meal services. Resources for Living’s Care Partner Model also provides one-on-one support navigating to benefits personalized for caregivers’ needs. Resources for Living isn’t just an Employee Assistance Program, however. Caregivers to older adults can also access the program through Aetna’s Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Highlight virtual support: Not all caregivers have the time to find or engage with local and community resources. Sharing digital tools can help alleviate some stress on people providing care. Telemedicine options, for example, can be helpful tools for caregivers, allowing them to seek therapy and other care in a convenient way. There are also tailored support groups for a caregiver’s experience, including Here4U®—a virtual series of online peer groups aimed at providing a sense of social connectedness and a safe space to talk or listen to others who may share a similar struggle.

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.