Women are providing more unpaid care in Canada and are more likely to struggle with mental and physical health problems as a result of caregiving than their male counterparts, according to data published by Statistics Canada on Tuesday.
The agency found about one-third of women (32 per cent) were looking after or providing unpaid care to children in 2022, and 23 per cent were providing unpaid care to adults with long-term conditions or disabilities.
Meanwhile, 26 per cent of men were providing unpaid care for children and 19 per cent were taking care of care-dependent adults.
In addition, six per cent of all those providing unpaid care are considered dual caregivers, caring for both children and care-dependent adults at the same time.
“Women were also more likely than men to feel worried or anxious, overwhelmed, short-tempered or irritable, and depressed due to their caregiving responsibilities,” the StatCan report reads.
Sixty-two per cent of women who provided care reported feeling tired, compared with 48 per cent of men, StatCan found.
Barb MacLean, the executive director of Family Caregivers of British Columbia, said family caregivers are “the invisible backbone of our health-care system.”
“As Canadian citizens, we don’t think enough about the role of care and from our families and from our friend networks,” said MacLean, adding that people should start thinking about how to help support their family and friends who are caregivers.
MacLean said family caregivers should be recognized as partners in care in Canada’s health-care system so they can be more successful and confident in their roles.
She also stressed the importance of caregivers taking care of their well-being to avoid distress and burnout — and to build a support network for themselves.
“Caregivers need to create a plan, not just to winging it every day but to create a plan,” said MacLean. “That plan would be about building with intention, your network of support, that you just can’t care alone, you have to share the care. So think about who in your network could help you.”
MacLean said the people in the caregiver’s support network should be able to relieve some of the responsibilities, so the caregiver can enjoy some free time.
COVID-19 added to pressures facing caregivers
COVID-19 has heightened the challenges that caregivers and patients faced when navigating the “complex health and social care system,” which adds more stress to family caregivers, said Michelle Lobchuk, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Manitoba.
Lobchuk said more health mental health funding is needed as “caregiving can be quite stressful.”
“It’s so important to identify family caregivers as our essential partners in care,” said Lobchuk. “They’re not just resources for health-care professionals and social care of people. They also have their own needs.”
Lobchuk said society should start listening more to family caregivers in terms of how they would like to be supported.
“The role can be quite stressful and isolating for people, which is concerning for me as a health-care professional,” she said.
On top of health stresses, an unpaid family caregiver’s financial security and employment can sometimes be affected by their caregiving responsibilities, Statistics Canada found.
According to the agency, 16 per cent of unpaid caregivers had to adjust their work schedule in order to be more flexible with caregiving responsibilities, seven per cent had to reduce their regular weekly work hours and five per cent were unable to work a paid job.
Allison Williams, a professor in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University, said employers need to be able to provide flexibility in work for employees who are caregivers “depending on the situation.”
Williams gives examples of dealing with cancer care, in which caregivers need to be with the patient to support them in their treatment.
“Employers can provide non-contiguous leaves, which means that the care employee as they’re called, only needs to be away from work on certain times or in certain situations,” said Williams, who developed a care-inclusive workplace guide for employers as part of her research.
“There’s also the opportunity to do flexible work, where start and end times may change depending upon the care support system.”
Williams added that the option to work from home and support groups within the workplace could ensure employees who are caregivers are recognized.
“Changing the culture of the workplace is a really critical piece of the puzzle in order for care workers to be supported.”
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