Rosalyn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Caregivers strengthen our communities by providing care, companionship, and support so that individuals can live with dignity and peace of mind. Like many essential roles, caregiving is physically and emotionally taxing. Amidst the demands of caring for others, caregivers’ mental health is overlooked. This can be due to compounding stressors, like time or financial constraints, social isolation, and limited support systems.
An understanding of the unique challenges of caregiving can inform the work to build systems to support caregivers holistically.
Caregiving Is Demanding Work
Caregivers may need to work long hours, often leading to physical and emotional exhaustion. Those caring for a loved one may navigate difficult emotions, including loss of control, isolation, or the feeling that caregiving is all-consuming.
Compounding these challenges is the historical reality that caregiving has been seen as the benevolent duty of family members. Caregiving was one of the few professions left out of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, meaning generations of caregivers have been without the support and protections many workers depend on.
Here are four areas to build a successful network for caregivers:
- Teaching skills to work with stress: One effective way to support the mental health of caregivers is to provide practical tools to work with stressors. Mindfulness has been shown to promote calm, relaxation, and better sleep. By integrating mindfulness, caregivers learn skills to identify and work through emotional challenges.
- Prioritizing access to care: The ability to see an affordable therapist is often a barrier to accessing mental health support. Providing access to affordable, quality health care significantly shifts caregivers’ ability to proactively care for their well-being.
- Meeting caregivers where they are: We must normalize emotional wellness in our communications and training and regularly connect caregivers with low-or-no-cost resources. This includes access to emotional health coaching. Resources like these can be a game-changer for caregivers needing in-the-moment support or feeling stigma related to mental health.
- Focusing on economic security: Financial security lays a foundation for mental health. Yet, caregivers often don’t get this peace of mind. As a result, policies that support financial wellness for caregivers are a crucial part of success. To support financial stability, we must connect caregivers to resources, such as childcare, food, or legal assistance. These are important steps to reduce the economic strain that can lead to mental health challenges.
More information about Care for Caregivers can be found at nami.org