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How to Support Caregivers While Physical Distancing

If you or someone you care about feels overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, or like you want to harm yourself or others call 911.

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text MHFA to 741741 to talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor.

With roughly 41 million Americans over age 18 caring for family, friends or loved ones, chances are there’s an informal caregiver in your life. It’s a high-pressure job, full of frustrations and worries — on top of “regular” stressors, such as family dynamics and full-time employment or even unemployment. Now that COVID-19 has taken over the public eye, caregivers have yet more to worry about.

How do you support your loved one’s caregiver when once-typical support, like hugs, visits and taking the care receiver to the doctor, are out temporarily out of the picture? Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) reached out to First Aiders, MHFA Instructors and caregivers to get their best ideas for supporting caregivers while practicing physical distancing.

Ask how you can help. Caregivers’ needs can vary daily — send chocolate today, run an errand tomorrow — so ask. If they don’t have specifics in mind, try one of these ideas.

Call them! Or email. Or text. Check in, and even if you don’t get a reply, you’ll let them know you’re thinking of them and their experience.

Reach out to the care receiver. Your phone call, email or text may free the caregiver from being the sole point of contact.

Let the caregiver talk. Whether they want to rant, complain or talk about something completely unrelated, let the caregiver know you’re there for them when they want to say more than a perfunctory “I’m fine.” Then listen nonjudgmentally.

Offer to run an errand and leave any parcels at the front door. It will save them time and limit their (and therefore the care receiver’s) exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses. Be sure to wear a mask and gloves, and practice physical distancing when you’re out. Far away? Maybe you can place a grocery order on their behalf and save them time and aggravation that way.

Give reassurance and information. Boots-on-the-ground caregivers are patient advocates, guardians and nursing care as well as housekeepers and cooks. They need information. This page from the American Society for Aging lists 25 resources on topics including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Medicare.

Encourage self-care. Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion — all common byproducts of caring for a loved one — lead to burnout. According to the Harvard Health Blog, seemingly simple things like self-compassion, eating well and getting enough sleep can all make a difference. But self-care is about more than eating your carrots and brushing your teeth — it can be permission to lay in bed and read a book, too. Remind the caregiver of that.

It can be hard to know just what to do for caregivers in “normal” times — and the days of COVID-19 are far from normal. So reach out and ask. Be there for them, just as they are for the care receiver, and #BeTheDifference today.