CAREGIVING IN THE U.S. 2015, a report prepared for The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, provides a good overview of many of the challenges facing family caregivers, including those who have a loved one with a mental illness. A caregiver is anyone who provides support to a spouse, parent, relative, or even a friend of neighbor. Although anyone who is a caregiver will not be surprised by most of what is in the report, it is important to highlight three major findings, and then review how a new program offered by Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and a number of community partners, including NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore, can help address some of the challenges.
First, although it is not unusual for caregivers to feel alone, there are large numbers of caregivers in every community across the country. In fact, more than 43 million adults—that’s almost one out of every five—reported being a caregiver. Of course, it is very easy for caregivers to feel isolated and lonely because their responsibilities may tie them down and give them little opportunity to meet and interact with others who are going through similar experiences.
Second, it is clear that caregiving often impacts both physical and emotional well being, especially for those caring for a loved one with a mental illness. Approximately one out of every five caregivers (22%) felt their health had gotten worse as a result of caregiving. This number was even higher for those caring for someone with a mental health issue—where the ratio rose to one out of every three (34%). And while 38 percent of caregivers overall consider their caregiving responsibilities to be highly stressful emotionally, 53 percent of those caring for a loved one with a mental health issue reported their responsibilities to be highly stressful.
Finally, we also learn from this report that the vast majority of caregivers (84%) say they could use more information or support on caregiving topics. The top two subjects they identified were keeping their loved one safe at home (42%) and managing their own stress (42%). The survey of caregivers also reveals that often it is not easy for them to access the information or help they need. For example, only one-third of caregivers (32%) say that a health-care provider, such as a doctor, nurse or social worker, has asked about their needs in providing care to family member, and only half as many (16%) say a health-care provider has asked what they need to take care of themselves.
Recognizing these and other caregiving challenges, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center has established CALLED TO CARE. The new program prepares and supports individuals caring for loved ones with health-related needs or limitations. CALLED TO CARE offers the opportunity for caregivers to come together. A good way to do this is to attend one of our Caregiver Cafes. These are offered twice a month, once on the campus of Johns Hopkins Bayview and once at a local public library. The groups provide a warm and welcoming environment in which caregivers can enjoy a snack and connect with fellow caregivers. These cafes also provide an opportunity to get answers to questions about health issues and community services by speaking informally with medical professionals and representatives of various agencies and organizations.
Another way CALLED TO CARE addresses the need of caregivers to get more information is by offering MARYLAND CAREGIVER TELECONNECTION. This is a free, weekly call-in program that allows individuals to engage with experts about medical conditions and treatments, hospital and community resources, and other caregiver-related issues.
CALLED TO CARE also offers a Caregiving 101 course that brings caregivers and health professionals together in a relaxed setting to discuss common issues, share ideas, and gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives on caregiving. This six-week course is held at Johns Hopkins Bayview and covers a number of topics, including What It Means to be a Caregiver, Taking Care of Yourself, and Preventing and Solving Problems.
In addition to these programs, CALLED TO CARE links caregivers to more than 20 community agencies and organizations offering valuable resources. Some of those agencies and organizations include NAMI, the Alzheimer’s Association, Maryland Legal Aid, Jewish Community Services, Catholic Charities, and Meals on Wheels.
Family caregivers play an integral role in a loved one’s health, wellness, and recovery. There are many resources available to help caregivers overcome challenges and to become more effective caregivers by maintaining their own wellness, learning more about the family member’s health needs, and connecting with peers. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. For more information about CALLED TO CARE and the services offered by our community partners, visit our website or call 410-550-8018.
Dan Hale, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who currently serves as Special Advisor to the President of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Director of CALLED TO CARE. He also is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine & Gerontology and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. In addition to his professional experience in the field of mental health, he spent many years helping care for a daughter who suffered from serious mental illness.
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