Disability and chronic illness can bring with it an enormous mental burden, but so can caregiving. Family caregivers may have to worry about earning enough income for themselves and for their dependents. They have to make sure the needs of their loved ones are met. They have the emotional labour of reassuring the person under their care that they aren’t a burden (even if the caregiver doesn’t always believe it). In Canada, a disproportionate number of caregivers are young. It can be exhausting work, and caregivers don’t get a lot of downtime.

Support for caregivers varies between jurisdictions, with some provinces providing some income to people who spend more than 20 hours a week caring for a family member. Some offer respite care to family caregivers who need a break. Other jurisdictions don’t support caregivers at all if they are immediate family. Family members are just expected to give care and may face judgment and stigma if they don’t shoulder the responsibility without complaining—yet another source of mental burden.

All of these added worries take a toll: caregivers are at higher risk of anxiety and depression and physical illness, especially if they have few social supports.

Disability and illness can be a mental burden on the whole family, and the more we can offer caregivers in social and emotional supports—so that they have less to worry about—the better we can avoid creating new patients.