According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, a surprising 1.4 million caregivers are between the ages of 8 and 18 in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of these individuals are caring for a parent or grandparent. Over half of these young caregivers live in the same household as their care recipient.
What is a caregiver?
Caregivers provide home-based assistance for parents, siblings or any other family member who is suffering from a disability, mental illness or other long-term ailment. Depending on the condition of the care recipient, caregivers might be responsible for feeding and bathing the recipient, maintaining cleanliness of the house or preparing meals.
How does caregiving impact mental health?
Understandably, acting as a caregiver can be a stressful experience, especially for someone who has not yet reached adulthood. Stress can have a negative impact on mental health.
Fortunately, a 2000 study found that young caregivers actually report more positive mental health benefits than negative mental health effects. These results are similar to those observed in spousal caregiving as well as adolescent informal caregiving of grandparents. It appears as though dedicating time and effort to make sure a family member is happy and healthy is more beneficial than detrimental.
There was one exception: Young caregivers who are caring for parents with both emotional and drug abuse problems experienced a decline in their mental health. For these caregivers, monitoring — and taking care of — their own mental health is essential.
Maintaining your mental health
Young caregivers must learn how to balance their needs with the needs of the person they are looking after to avoid suffering from mental ailments. Here are some things to keep in mind when acting as a caregiver.
Learn about the illness or disability. To better understand the needs of the care recipient, young caregivers should do what they can to learn about the illness or disability. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Search for blogs on the Internet. By understanding what the care recipient is going through, it becomes emotionally and physically easier to care for him or her.
Ask for help. Acting as the primary caregiver can be exhausting. If possible, share the responsibility of care with someone else. Discuss the possibility of sharing the load with a family member or friend.
Find support groups. Often, young caregivers benefit from attending support groups. It can be helpful to talk about their struggles with other individuals who understand those same struggles.
Take time to yourself. When caring for someone else, it’s easy to forget that you also need care. Treat yourself with a good meal or a decadent dessert. Enjoy a long, relaxing bath. Go for a walk. Your health is just as important as the care recipient’s.
Mental illness is a prominent and pertinent problem for a large number of individuals living today. Staying informed, caring for yourself as you care for others and knowing that you are not alone are vital for individuals in caregiving roles.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer