By definition, a caregiver is anyone who provides service to another to assist in making their lives easier. It might take the form of helping them with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), such as bathing, dressing, and feeding. It may include driving, grocery shopping, house cleaning, or errand running for an elderly person. In the mental health realm, it could mean making sure the client or family member takes their prescribed medications, spends time socializing so as to avoid isolation, and gets to their therapeutic appointments.
Caregivers fall into two categories:
Paid professionals such as nurses, aides, hospice workers, or family based therapists who visit the client at home.
Family or informal such as parents, partners, siblings, or friends.
“Most Americans will be informal caregivers at some point during their lives. A 2012 survey found that 36% of Americans provided unpaid care to another adult with an illness or disability in the past year. That percentage is expected to go up as the proportion of people in the United States who are elderly increases. Also, changes in health care mean family caregivers now provide more home-based medical care. Nearly half of family caregivers in the survey said they give injections or manage medicines daily.
Also, most caregivers are women. And nearly three in five family caregivers have paid jobs in addition to their caregiving.”
For the one offering assistance, the responsibility of caring for another with psychological or physical health challenges can be both a labor of love and a drain on resources.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that “1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental health condition. Mental health professionals have effective treatments for most of these conditions, yet in any given year, only 60% of people with a mental illness get mental health care.” That leaves family and friends struggling to assist loved ones with maintaining stability in the midst of sometimes chaotic episodes of those either untreated or with treatment-resistant conditions.
Caregivers of those with mental illness sometimes find themselves attempting to navigate a system that may feel daunting as they attempt to get insurance coverage for services, schedule appointments, encourage session attendance, secure medication, and transport to appointments.