The American Psychological Association released its annual Stress in America report earlier this month, and the findings were clear: those caring for people who are aging and/or chronically ill (including those having a mental illness) are under more stress than the average American. According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 65.7 million Americans served as caregivers for an ill or disabled relative in the past year.
Not only that, caregivers reported that they are less successful in making changes that could improve their quality of life, such as eating well, exercising, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I often reinforce the importance of these strategies, but the results show this is still difficult to put into practice.
Other results from the survey included:
- 55% of caregivers feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for chronically ill family members
- Caregivers report their levels of stress as higher than the general population, rating it at a 6.5 on a scale of 1-10, versus the general population rating their stress at a 5.2 on the same scale
- Caregivers reportedly have higher rates of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. They also have more chronic illnesses themselves, as well as experience physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, stomach pain, etc.
- Caregivers also report lower satisfaction with their relationships. Caregivers age 50 and older are less likely than those in the same age bracket in the general population to report they are very satisfied with relationships with their spouse or significant other (50% vs. 69%), relationships with friends (48% vs. 64%) and health (19% vs. 30%).
- The habits of caregivers are also less healthy than the general population: caregivers report watching more television (two or more hours per day) and have higher rates of smoking, both of which are used to manage stress.
Another significant finding, though, was the impact of having support for caregivers. The report stated:
- Caregivers who feel adequately supported have, on average, significantly lower levels of stress than those who do not (5.9 vs. 6.9).
- Caregivers who feel supported are less likely than those who do not feel supported to report symptoms of anger/irritability (48% vs. 69%) and feeling depressed or sad (39% vs. 55%).
- Caregivers who feel supported are also significantly less likely than those who do not feel supported to report feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation (24% vs. 47%) and less likely to report that they have isolated themselves from others when feeling stressed (24% vs. 42%).
- Caregivers who feel supported are significantly more likely to report that they actively use a strategy to help themselves manage stress (97% vs. 82%).
- Caregivers who feel supported are more likely to report that they are doing an excellent/very good job at recovering fully or recharging after they have been stressed out (47% vs. 22%), recognizing how they manage stress (41% vs. 26%) and managing or reducing stress when they experience it (36% vs. 22%).
I think those points are excellent evidence of how important it is to have support when you have a partner with a mental illness. For ideas about how to go about gathering the support you need, the following posts will point you in the right direction: