The personal stories of people caring for loved ones with mental illness or addictions tug at Edward Cruz’s heart.
The UWindsor nursing professor recalls the dread some said they felt at the prospect of taking ill or dying. Who would care for their loved ones then?
Some never take a vacation for fear of leaving their loved one alone. Some are afraid to leave the house for even a few hours.
Others spoke of putting their lives on hold, quitting their jobs, or using retirement savings for their loved ones’ care.
“Caregivers make significant sacrifices in their time, finances, and even their own health in order to care for a loved one with mental illness or addictions,” said Dr Cruz.
“Their dedication to their loved ones is immeasurable, but it’s heartbreaking.”
Cruz has led a study that included a survey and interviews with dozens of caregivers in Windsor and Essex County. In response to the findings, Cruz and collaborators at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and the WE-Spark Health Institute are putting on a virtual conference next month called “Caring for the Caregiver” to address some of recurring themes that arose in the research.
The conference will include information sessions on specific psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and substance use. There will be sessions addressing compassion fatigue, how to navigate the healthcare system, consent and privacy, and the Mental Health Act. Panels of caregivers will share their experiences and there will be opportunities for participants to connect with each other as peers.
The idea behind the study and conference originated with the Mental Health and Addictions Patient and Family Advisory Council, said Patrick Kolowicz, director of mental health and addictions at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.
“The group of more than 10 individuals, some caregivers themselves, noticed a need and acted on this,” said Kolowicz. “Caregivers, who often go unnoticed, are individuals who help our mental health and addictions system function. Supporting them is critical.”
Clementa Stan, career advising co-ordinator in the Odette School of Business, serves on the council and approached Cruz about assisting caregivers.
The conference will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 16 and 23. Registration is open now at www.wesparkhealth.com/caregiver-conference. Attendees can register for both days or just one.
Cruz intends to conduct surveys with caregivers following the conference.
Cruz and UWindsor alumna Jennifer Voth, research associate in Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s research and evaluation services department, received a $13,000 grant from WE-Spark to conduct the study. WE-Spark, a partnership among the University, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College, helps fund local health research, providing seed grants that often lead to larger research projects.
Dr. Voth said the project comes at an important time.
“Caregiving for a family member who is experiencing long-term mental illness is a demanding role,” she said. “This is even more pronounced during this pandemic when both individuals with mental illness as well as their caregivers may be experiencing intense feelings brought about by physical distancing that can further impact their mental health and overall well-being.”
The study, funded through WE-Spark this year, has provided research opportunities for students in UWindsor’s Faculty of Nursing.