Informal Caregivers for Family, Friends During Covid19 Experienced High Levels of Depression, Anxiety
Caregiving can be draining, both emotionally and physically, no matter how much one might love the people they are caring for; there’s a reason “caregiver burnout” is a thing. In the aftermath of the pandemic, a new study looked into its impact on people who provided care to friends and family during the crisis.
Published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, the study analyzed data pertaining to 14,118 caregivers in Canada, and found that informal caregiving led people to experience increased depression and anxiety during the pandemic, which was already hard on people’s mental health.
The researchers also found that people caring for loved ones within their house felt more distressed than those caring for friends or family members in healthcare institutions, or in another household. Perhaps, the former entails a more full-time commitment — where a caregiver is never off duty — making it more stressful.
Further, “female caregivers reported greater depressive symptoms and anxiety while male caregivers exhibited a greater increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety over time… this pattern could be due to greater resilience among female caregivers during the pandemic through prior caregiving experience and better coping processes,” states the press release for the study.
Unfortunately, this exposes the gender inequality that has prevailed in society for decades which, according to a 2020 study, was further intensified by the pandemic.
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“…assuming a caregiving role can be stressful and burdensome,” a study from 2009 notes, explaining that “caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience: [i]t creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in multiple life domains such as work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance.”
Given that caregiving itself can be a full-time job, stress is inevitable for informal caregivers, who are trying to fulfill caregiving roles while holding on to a paying job, or being a full-time student. Past research suggests that informal caregivers often end up neglecting their own health and wellbeing — with 35% finding it difficult to carve out some time for themselves, 29% grappling with stress, and another 29% struggling to balance work and caregiving.
Experts note that watching a loved one’s health deteriorate causes grief and anxiety. Meanwhile, the feeling of either not being a good enough caretaker or of neglecting other responsibilities — in one’s personal or professional life — allows for guilt to seep in. Further, not getting either adequate sleep or enough time to indulge in self-care can worsen their woes. “Unpaid caregivers may spend all of their free time caring for another person and have no time to themselves… to exercise, eat properly, or get enough sleep. Those who care for others are also more likely to have a weaker immune system and spend more time sick than non-caregivers,” an article on Good Therapy states.
As we continue our emergence from a global health crisis that has already lasted two years with no certain end in sight yet, it’s important to acknowledge the toll caregiving can take on people. Better awareness on the subject can, perhaps, have multi-pronged benefits: first, it can prompt a more collective recognition of caregiving as work; second, it can allow people to be more vigilant of the impact of informal caregiving on their minds and bodies so they can be more deliberate about self-care; and third, it can lead to people in the lives of informal caregivers be more empathetic to their experience, and more accommodating of their constraints — especially given that most prevalent work cultures don’t do that.
As Andrew Wister, a gerontology professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, who was the first author of the study, noted, “More needs to be done to address these systemic issues, including workplace support and increasing community resources.”