Pandemic stress weighs on caregivers' well-being, Merck KGaA study finds

The Merck KGaA study found that 13% of U.S. carers had been pushed into the role for the first time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—and globally, it’s 1 in 5. (Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany)

A new study from Merck KGaA finds a surge in unpaid caregivers who are struggling even more than usual. Twenty percent of informal caregivers are first-timers, but all of them are facing added physical, mental and financial burdens during the COVID-19 crisis.

Caregivers are neglecting their own physical health, adding to their personal financial burdens and short-shrifting their emotional well-being during the COVID-19 crisis—even more than they typically do, according to the global survey.

They're also spending more time at their caregiving "jobs." On average, caregivers spent 23 hours per week helping family members and loved ones during the pandemic, an increase of more than 7 1/2 hours every week, the study found.

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The result for caregivers? Eighty-nine percent say they put the needs of the person they're caring for over their own, causing them to postpone their own medical appointments. Financially, 22% said they’ve had to reduce their paid working hours due to caregiving responsibilities.

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Merck KGaA surveyed 9,000 people across 12 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas to create its Carer Well-Being Index, ultimately learning that while many found the job rewarding, almost none felt valued.

With little outside help, three-fourths (76%) of caregivers worldwide say they are feeling more burnt out than ever before because of caring for another person during the pandemic.

While the results may be unsurprising, the study highlights the real need to raise awareness of the pandemic's "tremendous impact" on caregivers' mental, physical, financial and emotional well-being, Heather Connor, Merck KGaA's head of global communications, said.

Ultimately, the goal is more than just awareness, but working to help the under-supported group, with nuanced challenges across different demographics. Women, for instance, disproportionately face greater emotional and mental health struggles than their male counterparts, while younger 18- to 34-year-old new caregivers need assistance navigating health and social service systems.

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The study identified five key areas to address to help improve the situation for caregivers—health and well-being, career support, financial help, better access to education and an increased lobbying push for better support systems.

The bottom line is unpaid caregivers, who are typically trying to balance paying jobs and their own health and well-being with their caregiver roles, should be supported and recognized by society, Merck KGaA concluded.

“What we hope to do with the results is further raise awareness of the full impact of this pandemic on caregivers," Connor said, with an eye to enlisting caregiver organizations "to work with policymakers, work with other advocacy organizations and work with employers to ensure that we are supporting as best as we can this very often under-recognized and under-appreciated population."