Whether you’re compensated for your work or not, the statistics don’t lie: caregiving can put a serious strain on your physical and mental health.
That doesn’t mean you have to give it up, and of course, that’s not always an option or desire. These statistics simply highlight the need for caregivers to approach their health proactively.
There are solutions for caregivers’ struggles, and our hope with this collection of step-by-step articles is that you will find the motivation and tools you need to care for yourself.
Statistics on the impact of caregiving on your health
Caregiving is affiliated with a number of emotional and physical health detriments. Stress has a serious impact on the body and mind, and it’s no secret that caregiving comes with stress.
The levels of stress hormones seen in caregivers are, in fact, 23% higher in comparison to non-caregivers. Persistent stress is a known contributor to insomnia and other sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and various other forms of disease.
This is what the research says on caregiving and health–mental and physical:
- Caregivers are more likely to live with depression when compared to the rest of the general population. According to the ADAA, 40-70% of caregivers experience symptoms of depression.
- Compared to the rest of the population, caregivers are at a higher risk of heart disease, sleep disturbance, chronic pain, and other negative health implications.
- 11% of caregivers report that caregiving negatively impacts their physical health.
- The negative health impacts of caregiving tend to worsen over time.
- 14% of caregivers use alcohol* to cope.
- Over 30% of unpaid caregivers surveyed in a study from June 2020 had considered suicide.**
- Black and Hispanic communities are both more likely to face negative health implications affiliated with caregiving when compared to other demographic groups.
These are not the only negative impacts that a caregiver might experience. Studies also report feelings of guilt, anxiety, and irritability, to name a few. Factors like the population a person is caring for and the income level of a caregiver also have a role in the likelihood that someone will experience physical, psychological, or emotional tension.
These various forms of tension cannot be ignored. Alexandra Drane, Co-Founder and CEO of ARCHANGELS, an organization that connects caregivers to care, describes the impact of caregiving on health and the importance of caregiver self-care:
“Unfortunately, a not-insignificant percentage of caregivers really die for the person they’re caring for, because the stress, emotionally and on your body, can be so intense. We’re all familiar with the notion of putting on your own air mask before helping others. That’s much easier said than done. So I would actually boil it down to: you legit cannot care for the person you’re caring for if you are dead.”
*Alcohol use disorder and other substance use disorders are serious. If you or someone you know struggles with a substance use disorder, contact SAMHSA at 1-800-662-4357.
**If you are in need of immediate support, please go to your nearest emergency room or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is always confidential. You can also use the chat feature and find other resources on the https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org website.
The emotional impact of medical debt and expenses on caregivers
Caregivers are often responsible for the medical expenses of those in their care.
Most of us know the impacts that debt can have on your life and opportunities available to you. However, debt can also impact your emotional and physical health, and this research-backed fact that requires attention. Stress from debt and financial concerns is linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression, stress, headaches, and trouble sleeping.
Unfortunately, medical debt is not uncommon. 2017 statistics indicate that 17% of households in the United States have medical debt. 32 million people in the United States report a lower credit score due to medical bills despite the fact that 70% of those with medical debt had insurance.
On top of this, caregiving impacts finances in other ways.
51.8% of caregivers say that caregiving has a negative impact on their professional lives. In this same study, 40.8% said that caregiving negatively impacts their physical health and 47.8% said that it impacts their psychological health negatively. Additionally, many caregivers have multiple jobs, student loans, children, and other obligations to take care of.
If you’re a caregiver, have medical debt, or are in another situation that causes financial strain, it is imperative to look into your options, whether that’s a grant, SNAP, help for medical debt, or other resources.
Tackle debt as soon as you can, and when you need financial assistance, reach out as soon as you can. It is never too late, and you are not taking up too much space or too many resources. We all deserve to have our needs taken care of, including caregivers.
Learn more about what to do if you can’t afford basic necessities.
Sandwich generation caregivers’ mental health
“Sandwich generation caregivers are having a really uniquely hard time,” shares Alexandra Drane, Co-Founder and CEO of ARCHANGELS, an organization that celebrates, uplifts, and advocates for caregivers.
Who are sandwich generation caregivers? These are folks who care for at least one individual under 18 and an aging parent simultaneously. Given their immense responsibilities, sandwich generation caregivers are at a much greater mental health risk than the average population.
ARCHANGELS has provided a series of statistics to put this plight into perspective. For the portion of people who have zero caregiving duties in life, the rate of suicidal ideation is around 4.5%. For those who are only a parent or guardian to someone under 18, that rate jumps to 9%. The rate of suicidal ideation remains about the same for folks who only care for someone over 18: 10%.
So what’s the rate of suicidal ideation among sandwich generation caregivers? A shocking 52%. Alexandra Drane highlights the significance of this number: “If you’ve thought about how you’d take your life in the last month, and you walk into a room of sandwich generation caregivers, you’re actually normal. That’s actually kind of nice to know, because most people who feel that badly put themselves into what we call ‘double jeopardy.’ They’re mad at themselves for having these thoughts.”
If you are a caregiver, hopefully these statistics show you that it’s ok to feel the way you do–admitting your struggles won’t make you abnormal, incapable, or ungrateful. Providing care to others is a beautiful act, but so is caring for yourself.
Caregiving is a crucial role that comes with extensive, tangible health impacts. If you have a caregiver in your life, make sure to express your appreciation for them and acknowledge the hard work they do. Offer a helping hand when you can, whether that means a listening ear or something else.
As Alexandra Drane puts it: “Caregivers don’t ask for help. So for anyone who’s reading this and knows an unpaid caregiver: please don’t ask them ‘How can I help you?’ Just freaking help. Insert yourself in their lives, figure out what’s going on, drop food off, mow the lawn.”
We all need a place to talk about what’s on our mind. No matter where you’re at right now, it’s possible to get to a better place–especially with the help of others.