WASHINGTON — A new study paints a grim picture of the lives of the 8.4 million Americans who are caring for an adult family member with mental illness. In short, they are stressed to the max and not getting the support they need.
Researchers connected with the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) collected data from an online survey completed last September by 1,601 family caregivers.
Three-fourths reported high emotional stress, and one in four said their loved one had a very tough time obtaining even basic medical help, let alone specialized services.
“Frankly, I am shocked by these statistics,” says Angela Kimball, the policy director at NAMI. “What this is showing us is that most people are having great difficulty finding the supportive services their loved one needs.”
As a result, many of these caregivers are working long hours trying to fill the gaps, and living with constant frustration.
“One of the interesting things is that in this report, caregivers reported that it took an average of almost 12 years to get an accurate diagnosis. That is pretty astonishing,” says Kimball, noting that it normally does not take that long to get a medical diagnosis for other conditions.
While public services are available for caregivers who are tending to, say, an aging parent, there is no comparable move to help those caring for younger adults dealing with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“Often we find that caregivers don’t even know that there are other people struggling with the same issues they are,” says Kimball.
And all this stress is taking a toll.
“They are finding it very difficult to take care of their own health,” says Kimball. “And as we all know, to be a good caregiver, you need to take care of yourself.”
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