Carers’ Mental Health

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Writer: K Ballesteros
Researcher: K Ballesteros
Graphics: Marc Ahron Cruz
Moderator: Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo, Richardson Mojica

 

The work of caring for other individuals, or the community at large, can take many forms, including the jobs performed by domestic workers, doctors, healthcare workers, nurses, midwives, or physical therapists. Cooking, cleaning for others, advocating for other people’s needs, or managing a family’s budget to ensure that all members of the community receive care are also all considered care work or caring. In Caring Democracy (Tronto, 2013), care is defined as including any and every activity that maintains, continues, and repairs our environment, community, and others so that we might live in the world [1]. 

Thinking through how care is provided across different systems and spaces, the International Labor Organization (ILO) recognizes care as a fundamental responsibility of society [2], and enshrines access to care as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ILO recognizes that care work can include direct care activities, which include nursing babies or caring for older adults, while indirect care might be farther removed but no less important, including work done by teachers and domestic workers [2]. While more rigid and formal educations might recognize specific vulnerable communities and individuals as requiring care – those who are aging, those with illnesses or injuries, or those living with physical or mental conditions [3] – the fact of the matter is, everyone requires care, at any given point in their life. 

Who Cares?

Care work and caring are overwhelmingly performed by women. In fact, 65% of the global care workforce is made up of women [2]. According to the ILO, domestic workers make up almost 20% of all care workers. Domestic workers, however, are also part of the informal sector who are largely unprotected by policies and laws that ensure they receive minimum wage, parental leave, and other basic protections. Domestic workers are often at risk of exposure to different forms of abuse [2]. This describes some of our experience locally, where informal workers are responsible for providing frontline, basic, and vital services, including acts of care, without enjoying much social protection. 

Because care work is so vast and so diverse, many kinds of care work are also unpaid. Doing chores, cooking food, washing up, or cleaning common living spaces all qualify as unpaid care work. International organizations also define unpaid care work as the activities that go into caring for children, the ill, and the elderly. These are essential to the wellbeing of individuals and the community, but the work is largely performed without remuneration. 

Carers, or those of us who perform care activities, take many positive experiences from performing these nurturing acts [4]. Carers can experience a deep sense of satisfaction from the act of providing care; they can feel confident, and increase their understanding of others’ experiences. Carers can feel closer to their families, friends, and can become more confident in their capacity to help others. However, caring for others can also take a toll on individual mental health. Carers might experience constant anxiety from worrying about others; carers might have less time to explore their own interests or develop personal relationships, leading to loneliness; and carers may also take on the burden of financing the care of others [4]. 

How do we care for our mental health as carers? 

It is important to recognize that larger systems interact to make care work disproportionately the responsibility of women and girls all over the world. At the individual level, there are some ways for carers to care for their mental wellbeing even as they perform care work: 

  1. Seek support from peer groups and others with similar lived experiences. This might be through online fora or through communities of care.
  2. Make space for personal interests, goals, and activities. 
  3. Practice self-compassion, and refraining from criticizing or blaming oneself for any perceived lapses or short-comings. 

Guide Questions: 

  1. In what ways are you caring for someone in your life? Who do you care for in your daily life?
  2. Who cares for you? How do they care for you?
  3. How can you help to care for your mental health as you care for others?

 

Works Cited

[1] Tronto, J. C. (2013). Caring Democracy: Markets, equality, and Justice. New York University Press. 

[2] Addati, Laura & Cattaneo, Umberto & Esquivel, Valeria & Valarino, Isabel. (2018). Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work. 

[3] Cynthia. (2023, November 28). Who is a care worker?. O’Neill Institute. https://oneill.law.georgetown.edu/who-is-a-care-worker/ 

[4] Mind. (2021, May). Where to find support for Carers. Mind. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/carers-friends-family-coping-support/support-for-you/ 



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