Caring for a family member with a mental health condition can be very stressful and challenging. If you or someone you know is caregiving, are you aware of the mental health impact on the caregiver?
McHenry County Mental Health Board offers support options for caregivers and their families through the website: www.MC708.org and the MCHELP app.
Mental Health America conducted surveys to evaluate the impact of caregiver involvement. From October 2019 to May 2020, 817 caregivers responded to a series of questions. The findings below were drawn from the responses.
Fewer than six in 10 caregivers feel involved in the mental health care of their loved one. Of those who felt involved in care, only 50% to 60% of caregivers reported that providers checked in with them about their loved one’s care. Only 43% reported being involved in the discussion of their loved one’s treatment goals.
The strain of caregiving was a universal experience of caregivers, with 68% reporting that they always or often experience distress about how to take care of all the things needed to happen. About 51% reported feeling frequent distress about being able to care for their own physical and/or mental health needs.
Caregivers who were not involved in care experience more uncertainty and distress about their loved one’s treatment. About 22% are more likely to feel distress about their loved one refusing treatment, and 5% more likely to feel distress about medications or treatment not working.
Conflicts regarding care were common, but the sources of those conflicts differed based on caregiver involvement. Overall, 63% of caregivers reported that they got into arguments or conflicts with their loved one specifically related to their care.
Despite conflicts and distress, most caregivers expressed hope for their loved one’s recovery. Whether a caregiver felt involved in care did not significantly affect hope for recovery.
The report released by the Mental Health America is titled “The Strain of Caregiving: How Caregiver Involvement Reduces Distress and Conflict.” Based on these findings, MHA offers several recommendations for more effective engagement of caregivers, including changes to systems of care that can help to reduce distress and conflict that contribute to the strain of caregiving.
Data indicated that only half of caregivers who are involved in a loved one’s care are integrated in a meaningful way, but three out of four want to be more involved.
Provider check-ins with caregivers should include, at minimum, an exchange of information about what is happening at home and how treatment can be improved. To support a client’s recovery, providers should increase their focus on engaging caregivers in understanding their loved one’s goals, helping caregivers identify strategies to assist their loved ones in achieving those goals, and allowing a space for the caregiver to voice their own goals and needs.
Increasing positive social support between caregivers and their loved ones is an important and meaningful focus for recovery. Providers can improve family dynamics by inquiring about and exploring needs and goals of both the person receiving care and their caregiver. Providers can mediate conversation when these goals are not aligned or where the care plan does not match with the personal needs of the caregiver.
A more comprehensive and inclusive caregiver relationship among provider, client and caregiver will result in whole family care. Increasing engagement toward whole family care can improve recovery, support continuity of care, reduce conflict, and reduce distress and uncertainty related to caregiving.
Caregivers may improve their overall mental and physical health by initiating ongoing self-care to address the strain and relieve the stress of caregiving. McHenry County Mental Health Board encourages engagement in available programs at www.MC708.org.
Caregivers also may find immediate support through the MCHELP app, which provides voice and text access to licensed professionals on the crisis line. This can be a lifeline for those who need to share during times of stress and strain. The MCHELP app is free and can be downloaded to smart phones from the Apple or Google stores.
• Scott Block is executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board.