Given the wealth of research linking daily chronic stress to long-term health, it’s worth asking: is our country’s failure to support caregivers making Americans sick? Is caregiver support a health care issue?
According to Dr. Allison Applebaum, a clinical psychologist who runs a caregiving support clinic in New York City, “I have lost count of the number of caregivers in my clinic who have also become patients. Rates of insomnia are skyrocketing in caregivers. Same with chronic depression, chronic anxiety.” As Applebaum told us, “People are so busy balancing their work with caring for their loved ones that they do not have time to take care of themselves. They often neglect their own screenings and medical care.”
The toll of caregiving without job or income security can spiral into new health care costs for caregivers themselves. Applebaum experienced this firsthand when taking care of her own aging father while working full time. As she recounted, “I took him to the emergency room and I picked up a bacterial infection. I hadn’t been sleeping and hadn’t had the chance to rest or take care of myself, and I ended up hospitalized. My immune system couldn’t fight it because I was so worn down.”
As Applebaum says, “If I had been able to take more paid time off from work to care for my father, I probably wouldn’t have been hospitalized with my own illness.” A few extra weeks, even a few extra days, of paid family leave might have warded off a hefty hospital bill.
As we weigh the cost of new legislation, we need to consider the big picture. Care investments today represent a down payment on tomorrow. We need to step away from siloing policies into categories like “social,” “economic” and “health care” and take a holistic view of our families, our health, and our economy as we craft policies to support caregivers and promote the nation’s health.