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Patrick Kolowicz, Edward Cruz, Jennifer Voth, Clementa StanThe Caring for the Caregiver study team, from left: Patrick Kolowicz, HDGH director of mental health and addictions; UWindsor nursing professor Edward Cruz; HDGH research associate Jennifer Voth; Clementa Stan, member of the Mental Health and Addictions Patient and Family Advisory Council.

University and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare partner on study of caring for caregivers

Caregivers are vital partners in the recovery journeys of loved ones who are living with mental illness. They provide emotional, social, and material support, which often includes navigating and advocating for services. Canada’s healthcare system is increasingly reliant on informal or voluntary caregivers to support their loved ones with chronic or persistent mental illness.

Faculty of Nursing assistant professor Edward Cruz is the principal investigator on a study aimed at understanding the needs of caregivers to adults living with mental illness in Windsor-Essex. Dr. Cruz, along with Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare research associate Jennifer Voth, will conduct a community needs assessment focused on this caregiver group.

“Family members, as informal caregivers, play a significant role in the continuum of care for persons living with mental illness,” Cruz says. “All too often, they do not get the supports they need to keep up with their caregiving role.”

The Caring for the Caregiver study is part of a project that started out of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Mental Health and Addictions Patient and Family Advisory Council.

“The idea originated pre-COVID to host a Caring for the Caregiver conference focused on wellness, education, and connections,” says Clementa Stan, a member of the council.

The in-person conference had to be postponed due to the pandemic, which freed up time to explore the experiences of caregivers. The idea is to understand the supports needed for them to care for their loved ones without damaging their own health or wellbeing, Stan says: “Caregivers experience increased levels of stress and burnout.”

Caregivers to adults with mental illness or addiction challenges are often an invisible group, says Patrick Kolowicz, HDGH director of mental health and addictions and the council’s chair.

“Most caregivers are not trained mental health professionals, yet their role can mean helping their loved one in crisis, with symptom and medication management and navigating a complex healthcare, social services, and housing system,” he says. “In many ways, our mental health and addiction system is reliant on caregivers.”

The study involves five data collection points, three of which will launch this month. Caregivers are invited to complete a 20-minute online survey that can be accessed here.

This study has received clearance from the University of Windsor Research Ethics Board.

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