Careers and crisis: Who’s caring for our critical caregivers?

Caring for chronically or terminally ill children and adults is hard work—physically and emotionally. It takes mental stamina and psychological resilience. Most family caregivers take on the job with no training and very little idea of what to expect. As a New York Times article notes, “Rarely does anyone tell [them] about hands-on care, about tube feedings, transferring bed-bound patients to wheelchairs or commodes, turning them to avoid bedsores, …” The list goes on.

Professional caregivers who care for the critically ill—nurses, hospice workers, and physicians—face the same emotional and physical challenges with their patients, year after year. Sadly, these challenges may contribute to unfortunate realities. In a study published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 21 percent of end-of-life caregivers whose patients died in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Surrounded by the sick and dying

Many industries can point to examples of high-stress jobs. But critical caregivers really exist in a class by themselves, dealing with serious illness on a daily basis. Not only are their patients chronically or terminally ill; they themselves are also often depressed.

Up to 70 percent of caregivers suffer from depression; of those up to 50 percent meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Not surprisingly, depressed caregivers are more likely to have coexisting anxiety disorders, substance use or dependence, and chronic disease.

Pediatric ICU nurses exhibit high levels of anxiety from caring for—and caring about—their young patients. Nearly 19 percent of pediatric ICU nurses believe they’re not prepared to deal with patients’ deaths.

Caregivers often describe feeling frustrated, angry, drained, guilty, or helpless as a result of their job. Nearly one quarter of caregivers report exhaustion and an inability to handle all of their responsibilities.

A study by Penn State University researchers found that “caregivers’ sacrifices cut their own lives short by as much as a decade because their health suffers under the burden of extra stress and lost sleep.” And, the demands of caregiving can drive caregivers to thoughts of suicide.

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Help your employees access behavioral healthcare when they need it

Even if caregivers—professional or family—never succumb to the job’s most extreme behavioral health hazards, there’s no doubt that as a whole the industry needs to recognize and address its behavioral health challenges. These courageous individuals take on a lot of stress and emotional burden due to their chosen field.

It’s time that employers reach out to support their courageous efforts and Castlight can help. Personalized platforms like Castlight Elevate can help identify at-risk employees, provide them with the information they need to make educated treatment choices, and commence care instantly—while strictly following federal healthcare privacy rules.

Additionally, Elevate offers education for caregivers, suggested support hotlines and access to instant care associated with their specific situation as a caregiver.

Together, we can ensure that critical caregivers receive the helping hand that they themselves offer to others every day.