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Family Caregiver Mental Health and COVID-19

By John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network

Your Mental Health Matters

Stressed. Isolated. Worried. As we all navigate a world dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, these feelings may have become familiar to all of us. For family caregivers of a loved one with a chronic condition, these feelings may feel much more familiar and routine. Being a family caregiver is difficult in the best of circumstances. The stress and challenges of the role can have a huge impact on a family caregiver’s mental health, leading to more family caregivers experiencing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, and anxiety. It goes without saying that it is important for family caregivers to take care of themselves – both physically and mentally - not only for their own well-being but also to be able to continue to be a source of support for their loved one. But the question is: how?

Assess Yourself

Signs of mental health issues may be present, even when you don’t recognize them right away. This can be especially true in a time when so much is new and uncertain. This assessment tool, specifically for family caregivers and developed in collaboration with Mental Health America, will help you identify issues (such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder) so you can better find the help you need.

Stay Connected with Your Loved One

Many can’t visit their loved ones currently staying in the hospital or in long-term care communities (such as nursing homes, etc.) due to changes in visitation policies to keep residents safe. Being apart from your loved one is never easy. Even long-distance caregivers who already have a system in place to stay connected with their loved one may find being apart especially difficult and anxiety-filled right now. Call your loved one to check in on them. Set up regular video chats. Write letters or send greeting cards. Reach out to staff at the hospital or long-term care community to ensure you are still receiving regular updates about their health. Just this basic connection can do so much to feel more at ease.

Seek Support

It is important to continue to build your support network. This can occur in several different ways.

  • Staying in touch with friends and family: We noted earlier how it is important to stay connected with your loved one if you’re currently apart. The same applies to the group of friends and family that you rely on for support. This can take the shape of regular phone calls, video chats, or text messages. Stay in touch and let them know how you’re feeling.
  • Find an online support group or forum: Family caregivers turn to support groups for many reasons. It gives them a safe place to discuss areas of concern with those that understand. It can serve as a crucial social outlet as well. As support groups are not currently holding in-person meetings, you may find an alternative online. First, if you are already a part of a support group, reach out to see if this group is meeting virtually. If they aren’t, you may be able find an online group or forum such as CAN’s Care Community, where you can continue to engage with others that may be having similar struggles.

Keep Caregiving

Despite the current situation, caregiving-as-usual happens. Your loved one may have doctor appointments or there may be prescriptions to refill. It is important to know that there are resources to support you, even if it isn’t specifically related to or impacted by COVID-19. CAN’s Family Caregiver Toolbox is well equipped with resources and information to help you. Our organization has also launched Caregiver Help Desk, a tool where you can be connected with caregiving experts via phone at 855-227-3640, live chat, or e-mail.

Seek Professional Help

You can still access professional help while at home. If you currently see a therapist or counselor for regular sessions, ask them about holding these sessions virtually. Many practices have switched to this model for the time being and are happy to make these arrangements.

Not currently seeing a professional? Platforms like Better Help and Talk Space connect you with a therapist virtually.

These are challenging times. As a family caregiver myself, I understand how difficult it can be to put your mental health and well-being as a priority. I also understand how challenging it can be to do this in the uncertain and, frankly, scary circumstances we’re currently dealing with. Our hope is that these tools and tips will help you feel more equipped and confident in taking care of yourself, so you can continue to be the best source of support possible for your loved one.