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Survey finds mental health caregivers under "high emotional stress"

(Mar. 1, 2016) It may not come as news to anyone who cares for a mentally ill loved one that the stress is enormous, but a new survey of 1,600 unpaid caregivers still contains startling - and sobering - findings about the toll such caregiving takes on those of us in this role.

Three-quarters of the participants reported "high emotional stress" as a result of their caretaking responsibilities. They described the experience as living on "pins and needles." About 4 in 10 said they found it difficult to take care of their own health, and 6 in 10 said caregiving had made their own health worse.

Overall, the caregivers of loved ones with psychiatric diseases were found to be spending significantly more hours a week and years of their lives caring for their loved ones, who were significantly more likely to be living with them.

Describing "Experiences and Challenges"

The purpose of "On pins & needles: Caregivers of adults with mental illness" was to "describe the experiences and challenges" of mental health caregivers. Prepared by consultants Greenwald & Associates, the study published by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NCA) analyzed a September 2015 survey of 1,601 caregivers of adults with serious-to-moderate emotional or mental health issues.

The report said mental health caregivers of adult children "are in an especially unique situation" because most (64%) report their sons or daughters are financially dependent on friends and family, yet barely one-third of the family caregivers have a plan in place for someone else to provide care once the parent no longer can.

"The findings in this report illustrate how mental illness can impact not only an individual patient, but the family caring for that patient," according to the report drafted by Greenwald & Associates, with input from NCA, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health American.

Among the findings

  • Mental health caregivers average 54 years old. The recipients of their care average 46 years old, but most (58%) are between 18 and 39.
  • More care for an adult child (45%) than for any other related person (parent, 14%; spouse, 11%).
  • Mental health caregivers average 32 hours of care per week compared with 24 hours for other caregivers.
  • Mental health caregivers provide nine years of care on average, more than double the typical four years provided by others.
  • In nearly half the cases (45%), the care recipient lives with the caregiver. This compares with 34% of family members for caregiving associated with non-psychiatric conditions. 
  • About half (48%) the caregivers said they found it difficult to talk to others about their loved one's condition, and about the same number reported "feeling alone" because of their role.

The caregivers also described many challenges to getting diagnosis and treatment for a family member in their care. About half reported healthcare providers had withheld information about their loved one's condition and about the same number said they were included in care conversations less often than they should have been.

Seven policy recommendations are made to address the "unique challenges" facing mental health caregivers.

Source: Treatment Advocacy Center

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