Caring for Caregivers

November 2, 2021 / by United Way

Caring for Caregivers through Education & Emotional Support

Family Caregivers of BC Executive Director Barb MacLean shines a light on the hidden stresses of caregiving and the importance of providing support.

 “If you’re a caregiver and you need to talk to somebody, we’ll be there,” promises Barb MacLean, executive director of Family Caregivers of British Columbia. The non-profit organization assists those who provide physical and/or emotional care to a family member, friend, or neighbour. 

The Cost of Caregiving

Many of these caregivers face daunting stresses of their own, and may not know where to turn.

“A caregiver is more than twice as likely as somebody who’s not a caregiver to become sick themselves with a chronic disease,” said MacLean, adding that depression and anxiety are also threats. 

The stresses faced by caregivers range from the physical (how do you help somebody brush their teeth?) to the emotional (what do you do when you feel like you’re at your limit?). For this reason, the organization maintains a focus on both educational and emotional support. 

As MacLean points out, caregiver struggles take their toll on not one, but two individuals. 

“There’s a saying, put your oxygen mask on first,” she said. “If a caregiver isn’t healthy and well, how are they able to maintain that care for somebody who needs them?”

Watch the video here.

An Invisible Population

Many caregivers struggle in silence, working within a system that places the emphasis on the person being cared for. 

“These caregivers are your neighbours or the people you encounter at the grocery store,” said MacLean. “They’re probably doing their work behind closed doors, and may be suffering and in need of support.”

MacLean said that about 80 per cent of care is provided by family and friend caregivers, and advocates for recognition.

“It’s the most beautiful thing a human being can do for another person, to care for them,” said MacLean. “If society doesn’t value that and bring it forward, then we’re not going to see the changes we need to see systemically. I think we all can do our part in that.”

Personal Struggles with Caregiving

MacLean herself recalls struggling during a period when she was being stretched too thin. 

“I was trying to juggle having a baby, having a job in a leadership position and caring for my mom,” she said. “The hardest thing for me was, who gets my time, my baby or my mom?” 

These experiences are not uncommon and helped shape MacLean’s desire to support those in need. 

“The tensions are there, and they never go away,” she said. 

Supporting Caregivers 

Family Caregivers of BC is funded in part by United Way Southern Vancouver Island.

MacLean expresses her gratitude to those who have given. Many caregivers have found strength and support through the organization, and have been able to continue providing care to others, as well as themselves. 

“I invite people to really take a look at how important that role is in our lives,” she said. “If we don’t have care, we probably have nothing.”

She believes that her organization’s work has a multi-layered impact on society.

“We’re really saving one life, and at the same time supporting the best quality of life for the person with the disease or the disability.”

You can help fund this organization and other community serving organizations that help seniors by giving to United Way.

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