National Family Caregivers Month – November Community Column (555 words)
By Debra B. Johnson, Executive Director, St. Clair County Community Mental Health
Every November, National Family Caregivers Month calls attention to the estimated forty-four million Americans who provide unpaid assistance and support to adults with disabilities. Twenty-six million of these individuals do so while also working full or part time, and many millions more are raising school age children. The responsibility of caring for adults with disabilities, while also carrying the already heavy responsibilities of work and family, creates unique challenges for these caregivers. It is a burden often undertaken in silence. This year’s theme, “Be Care Curious,” encourages everyone to become educated about the unique responsibilities and challenges these caregivers face every day.
The most basic of responsibilities is to ensure their loved one receives proper nutrition to maintain their strength, energy, stamina, and a positive attitude. Often, this involves special diets. Next to this in importance is managing their loved ones medications, ensuring that medicine is taken correctly and an up-to-date medication list is maintained. These time-consuming responsibilities often crowd out other activities.
Of the 44 million Americans providing unpaid care, 8.4 million, or 19%, provide care to individuals with mental health issues. Another 15.7 million of the 44 million caregivers, or 36%, care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that primarily affects the elderly, creating problems with memory, thinking and behavior. November is also National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Caregivers whose loved one has a mental illness or dementia experience the same pressures as all caregivers, but with the added burden of often feeling even more isolated because of the stigma many people still associate with mental illness.
Another difficulty all caregivers face when they first take on these new responsibilities is feeling uncertain about how to proceed. They lack confidence because they are not yet fully educated about their loved one’s condition and have yet to develop the skills necessary to address challenges like handling their loved one’s impairments and emotions, their own emotional distress, and financial difficulties that often present themselves.
Even when their caregiving skills improve, family caregivers continue to deal with frustrating day-to-day situations, struggling to achieve a “normal” day when every day is uniquely challenging. Over time, other difficulties present themselves, including the physical and psychological health of the caregiver. Typically, there is a lack of social support as the caregiver gradually becomes more and more isolated from other family members and friends because of their new responsibilities. Even inside the home, the addition of an individual in need of care into the home creates strain in marital and parent/child relationships. This can create a psychological and in some cases literal isolation that, coupled with not having enough time for their own well-being, can lead to significant stress and depression, lack of sleep, and even physical symptoms for the caregiver.
Most of us have a family caregiver in our immediate family or among our circle of friends. You can help them in a variety of ways. First, provide emotional support just by being present and listening to them. Second, offer them the gift of time. Offer to sit with care receivers while the caregiver takes a break. Finally, offer hands-on-help, to do specific tasks they need assistance completing. A few hours of your week could be the difference in a long-term caregiver’s emotional and physical health. During National Family Caregivers Month, let’s remember these unsung heroes.
About St. Clair County Community Mental Health St. Clair County Community Mental Health provides public services and supports to adults with mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities and persons with co-occurring substance use disorders.
For more information, crisis intervention or to find out if you qualify for public services, please call the Access Center at 1-888-225-4447. Support is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. General information is also available at the St. Clair County Community Mental Health website, www.scccmh.org or on the Agency’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SCCCMH.