Of the 34 million people in the United States who act as caregivers for loved ones, 25 percent deal with mild to severe depression.

Another one third of them also deal with moderate to severe anxiety.

Those are the findings of a new study published recently in the Journal of Palliative Medicine. It puts statistics to a sad truth every caregiver knows. While their selfless acts help others get through tough times, the caregiver themselves must also handle a variety of issues.

That’s why Hope Grows offers a place for caregivers to have a respite from their work, as well as speak with counselors about what they are experiencing. Caregivers need such a place as their problems – both emotional and financial – can often be forgotten or ignored by society at large.

The Study’s Findings

Five people worked on the study, including three doctors. Four of the researchers work with the University of Missouri, while a fifth works with the University of Washington.

The researchers, using existing data on caregivers, sought to look at the “prevalence and variables” associated with depression and anxiety among caregivers. They also looked at the relationship between being a caregiver and those two conditions.

They looked at cases involving 395 caregivers. The National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Cancer Institute funded the work.

Among the study’s results:

  • Younger caregivers were more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • Married caregivers who provided care for someone diagnosed with something other than cancer had a higher risk for experiencing depression.
  • Researchers also found that geography played a role – caregivers in the Southeast experienced more anxiety than those in the Midwest, for example.

Dr. Debra Parker-Oliver, a profession of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri, worked on the study. She said the results point to the severity of the depression and anxiety issues for caregivers.

“While some sadness and worry are expected components of caring for a dying family member or loved one, clinical depression and anxiety shouldn’t be,” Parker-Oliver said, according to Futurity.

“We have a population that is under immense stress and is not being acknowledged. Basic assessment tools should be used to help increase the likelihood of early detection and treatment of depression and anxiety in family caregivers.”

Possible Answers

Clearly, the study results show a need for more focus on caregivers. Non-profit organizations such as Hope Grows provide much-needed support and help for caregivers. Those in the medical profession need to have a similar focus, the study concluded.

The healthcare community needs to recognize the prevalence of depression and anxiety among caregivers.  And do a better job of “assessing and responding” to these issues, the study found.

Parker-Oliver said it’s a matter of healthcare providers understanding that while caretakers provide critical help to those suffering from a disability or disease, they also often require some help themselves.

She said, “Health providers usually are more focused on the terminally ill patient instead of the entire family. However, in many scenarios, it is a family disease.  It’s fair to say they have two patients: the caregiver and the person who is terminally ill.”

The first step for caregivers experiencing anxiety and depression is to reach out to someone who can help. With the results of this study, it’s clear that anyone who feels this way is not alone.