A report by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said that at least 8.4 million Americans care for an adult family member with an emotional or mental health issue, and nearly three quarters report that caregiving causes high emotional stress.
The data was collected from an online survey completed last September by 1,601 family caregivers. On average, they provide 32 hours of care a week, have done so for about nine years and, despite their advancing age, have made no long-term plans for their financially dependent loved ones. Many feel socially isolated.
‘Mental illness is a condition that affects the whole family, and caregivers report high levels of emotional stress and are worried that their loved one would self-harm. It's time to bring these families out of the darkness and get them help.’
Four in 10 caregivers struggled to find an accurate diagnosis for their loved one. Families whose loved one had found an accurate diagnosis reported that it took 11.8 years, on average, to get there.
A majority of caregivers found that it was difficult to find the right drug and dose, and fewer than four in ten caregivers (37%) reported that their loved one's medication was effective in providing the help they need. Caregivers noted several barriers to accessing health care services and long-term services and supports, including day programs, peer support, case managers, in-patient treatment centers, and low availability of services in rural areas.
As a result, many of these caregivers are working long hours trying to fill the gaps, and living with constant frustration. In addition to identifying common challenges facing caregivers of people with mental illness, the study offers a number of solutions to help families struggling with mental illness.
"We often forget that caregivers themselves are enduring trauma, anxiety, and depression as they work on behalf of a loved one," explains Paul Gionfriddo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health America. "Surveys like this help us to focus not only on the inadequacies in our system of services and supports for people with mental health conditions, but also on the inadequacies of the support we give to those who care for them."