Parents and other caregivers are more stressed and in poorer health due to pandemic, report finds
Updated 6:03 AM ET, Wed September 9, 2020
(CNN)When Raquel Minina's 11-year-old son Syrus came home from school in Paulding County, Georgia, last week with a sore throat, runny nodse and diarrhea, she was devastated.
A hairdresser by trade, she knew a diagnosis of Covid-19 would put her out of work for a month or more, despite all the careful safety precautions she'd been using to keep her clients safe.
"If I don't work I don't get paid," Minina said. "And if I'm quarantined at home, I would have to pay for food delivery, or I might be too sick to cook and have to pay for take-out, all of which I can't afford."
It wasn't the first time Minina, a single mom, had faced the financial and emotional stress that Covid-19 has brought into people's lives. At the beginning of the pandemic she was out of work for six weeks and had to skip two mortgage payments. The stress began to affect her health.
"I could feel my heart racing, palpitations that felt like a heart attack, but it was anxiety," Minina said. "I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and even with my medication, I was having panic attacks."
One-fourth of caregivers in worse health
Similar situations are occurring daily in homes across the United States as the added pressure of the pandemic takes its toll on our lives, according to a national analysis of at least 6.7 million caregivers insured by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
The analysis, entited "The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health," is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield "Health of America Report" series, which uses insurance data to identify key health care trends.
The report, published Wednesday, found 26% of unpaid caregivers trying to balance work and family due to Covid-19 are feeling more stress and have poorer physical health than before the pandemic.
"Caregiving stress is very real, but many people won't ask for help," said Alex Drane, co-founder and CEO of Archangels, a national movement recognizing and honoring caregivers that also provides resources to those in need.
"Being a caregiver is lonely. And loneliness is a very real thing that has clinical implications," Drane added. "I think a bright spot of Covid-19 could be that it may help normalize the pervasiveness of this reality so that folks can feel less alone in it."
Millennials hit hardest
Millennial caregivers, the generation that is currently between the ages of 24 and 39, appear to be hardest hit when compared to a benchmark population, the analysis found.
Millennials were 82% more likely to have hypertension, had a 60% or higher increase in anxiety or major depression and a 74% increase in obesity, according to the data. They were also much more likely to visit emergency rooms (33%) or be hospitalized (59%).
It's possible that some of this increase is due to generational differences in health. A 2017 BCBS report found millennials to be less healthy than the previous generation, called Gen X, at approximately the same age.
That analysis found millennials were more likely to have hypertension, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and major depression; and more likely to use tobacco, alcohol and have substance use disorders compared to the national population.
There is also a generational aspect to coping with the virus today that comes into play, Drane said.
"Because they're younger, they haven't seen things go bad such as boomers have," Drane said. "If you've lived through hard times before, you know you're going to survive the virus.
"The younger you are, the more overwhelming Covid-19 is feeling. And the data is playing that out," she added.
Mental health issues
Feeling overwhelmed is affecting more than physical health. The mental health of caregivers is also declining during the pandemic.
Some 57% of all caregivers reported clinically significant levels of stress, anxiety or depression and many are turning to unhealthy behaviors to cope, according to the 2020 Archangels National Caregiver Survey, a separate report done in collaboration with BCBS.