Don’t overlook the needs of caregivers

Don’t overlook the needs of caregivers

Caregivers are at risk for stress, depression and other illnesses 

In brief:

  • Nearly 44M Americans are caregivers for someone with a physical or mental illness
  • Caregivers themselves are at increased risk for mental and physical illnesses
  • During Mental Health Awareness Month, be sure to support caregivers
  • Your pharmacy’s support can include mental health screenings as well as products and services that make their lives easier

Look beyond the name on the prescription to the other person standing in your pharmacy. This person accompanying a patient (or picking up a prescription for them) is often a dedicated, unpaid caregiver.

Almost 44 million Americans are caregivers, helping children and adults with physical and mental impairments. During Mental Health Awareness Month it is important to realize that about 20% of caregivers are helping someone with a mental illness.

As shown below, being a caregiver can take a physical, mental, emotional and financial toll.

Being a caregiver can take a physical, mental, emotional and financial toll
Source: Mental Health America

The time, energy, physical demands and mental stress of caring for someone else can lead to a host of conditions, including anxiety, depression and even premature death.1

At times, caregivers neglect their own physical and mental health, and a caregiver’s health might be overlooked by providers. Statistics about caregiver’s health include:2

  • 45% have chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis
  • 40% to 70% of have symptoms of depression
  • 55% say they miss their own doctor’s appointments
  • 72% say they don’t go the doctor as often as they should
  • Caregivers ages 66 to 96 have 63% higher mortality than others the same age

Caregivers neglect their own physical and mental health, and a caregiver’s health might be overlooked by providers
Source: Mental Health America

How your pharmacy can help

This year during Mental Health Awareness Month — and on an ongoing basis — try to go beyond just caring for and showing support for patients. Also look out for the mental health needs of caregivers.

Specific actions your pharmacy can take for caregivers include:

  • Check for healthy habits. Mean it when you ask, “How are you?” Ask caregivers how well they are sleeping and eating, and whether they are exercising. Let them know that insomnia isn’t inevitable. When appropriate, make recommendations for products such as supplements and offer provider referrals.
  • Screen for depression. Partner with qualified providers to offer mental health screening in your pharmacy, with referrals to appropriate providers for those at risk of depression and other issues meriting treatment. You might administer the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
  • Include caregivers in services. When checking whether patients are up to date on their vaccines, also ask the caregivers whether they are due for an immunization. Schedule MTM appointments back to back for both patients and caregivers. Remind caregivers it is essential that they remain healthy so they can provide care.
  • Highlight how to make it easier. Show caregivers how to lighten their load with products and services your pharmacy offers, such as:
    • Compliance packaging
    • Free delivery
    • Lift-assist devices and chairs
    • Grab bars and raised toilet seats
  • Bolster networks. Keep handy a list of support groups and others whom caregivers can turn to for assistance, such as adult day care or respite services.
  • Host or co-sponsor sessions on topics about making caregiving easier, such as how to keep family medical records, choosing a nursing home, or legal and estate planning issues.
  • Affirm meaning and purpose. Studies suggest that caregivers who find meaning in their work are less stressed. A word of recognition or praise from your staff can remind overwhelmed caregivers of the real value they are providing, which can be overlooked.

Remember during every conversation with caregivers that they are patients themselves and they, too, need your personal care and support. Help encourage them, lift them up, and make sure that they don’t ignore their own physical and mental health needs.

1 “Mental Well-Being of Family Caregivers,” Brenda Patoine, The Dana Foundation, February 15, 2019. LINK
2 “Caregiver Health,” Family Caregiver Alliance. LINK