Caring for Those Who Give Care

On the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving brings with it an opportunity to celebrate the bonds we share with our families and friends.  It’s fitting, then, that this year, the White House has proclaimed November to be National Veterans and Families Month, recognizing the commitment and sacrifice made by not only those who have served, but the people who support and care for them.

Caregiving, of course, is not isolated to veterans and their families.  AARP and the National Alliance of Caregivers state that 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the preceding 12 months.  Of those, it’s estimated that 39.8 million individuals – about 1 in 6 Americans – provide care for someone eighteen or older on an ongoing basis, and approximately 5.5 million care for current or former military personnel.

This support from families, friends, and neighbors brings with it significant impacts to the people providing unpaid care.  Nearly 90% report increased stress or anxiety as a result of caregiving, and more than three quarters say that sleep deprivation affects their quality of life.  With 40% to 70% of caregivers having clinically significant symptoms of depression – and between one quarter and one half meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression – mental health is a significant issue for caregivers.

Even more stark are the statistics for military caregivers, who are one and a half times more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts, one-third less likely to have a support network, and almost twice as likely to be caring for a recipient with a behavioral health condition or a Veterans Administration (VA) disability rating.

Thankfully, awareness is growing of the burdens borne by caregivers in the United States.  The Family Caregiver Alliance, for instance, provides Caregiving 101, which can help people begin to understand how best to approach caregiving and become aware of the resources available to them.  For those who need more, counseling and mental health services like Forge Health’s Family Resilience programs can be invaluable.

Caregivers deserve our celebration, but they also deserve our support.  If you or someone you know is providing care for a family member, a friend, or a neighbor, please make an effort to check in with them.  Chances are they can use some help, even if they don’t realize it.