An article in yesterday's paper caught my attention as do most things related to seniors. Apparently there is a report published recently by the 'Mental Health Commission of Canada' that caregiving is very stressful and can result in mental health issues. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that a report was needed to tell us this. Maybe I am simply more aware of issues related to caregiving than those in the general population, but it seems rather intuitive that providing care for someone with a long-term illness, regardless of the age of the person receiving care, would be tremendously stressful on the person giving the care. And stress can lead easily to mental health issues - as well as physical health issues and in some cases, physical abuse of the the recipient of care. While more than just caregiving was dealt with in the document (it looked at mental health issues in general across the country), it is a good thing for caregivers in Canada that a formal document finally acknowledges what so many of us know to be true.
The problem with reports though, is often they are written and then forgotten with nothing substantial coming from them in the form of changes to our system. I suppose now the challenge is to figure out what we do with this information and how we support at risk people in a more constructive way. In recent years there seems to be less secrecy around mental health issues in general. As a 'hidden' often stigmatized illness for many, as a society we certainly have not given it the same acknowledgement as we do physical illnesses or disabilities yet on some level the toll it takes on affected individuals, their loved ones, our health care system and our economy can be tremendous and in some circumstances, far greater than an acknowledge physical problem.
Given our ageing population, the impact of the physical and mental toll caregiving takes, will be on the rise if we don't find a way to support people in this most difficult and demanding task. It is my hope that health professionals and others will take the time to increase their understanding of the issues and look at ways to assist caregivers in decreasing their stress levels and identifying when situations become toxic. It is only through acknowledgement and understanding that we can ever hope to lessen the burden of any mental health issue but also, of caregiving in general.
For additional information on caregiver stress have a look at the articleWorking Caregivers - Balance or Burn Out?