A caregiver helps an elderly lady

Nursing-led study aims to understand mental health and wellbeing of Canada’s unpaid caregivers

17 July 2023

Monica Parry a Professor at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing along with a team of researchers from across Canada, have received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to launch a nation-wide study on the health and well-being of unpaid caregivers. The Caregiving Across Cultures in Canada study will be the first in the country to examine the intersections of race, ethnicity, sex, age, and gender on the experiences of unpaid caregivers.

Almost one-third of Canadians provide unpaid caregiving says Parry, which can encompass personal, psychological, physical, social, and financial care for someone with a long-term health condition, a disability, or with increased needs due to aging. In 2020, Parry conducted a six-month rapid review of the unpaid caregiver evidence with a particular focus on the impact of the COVID19 pandemic.

Her study found that caregivers were reporting over 40 hours of unpaid caregiving per week, the equivalent of a full-time job, but that the majority of respondents were not reflective of the Canadian population as a whole.

“Race and ethnicity were not well reported, and yet we know that almost one in five people in Canada are born outside the country, so there is a large gap in our understanding of the health and wellbeing of a significant portion of the population and their caregiving experience,” says Parry.

This is significant because with unpaid caregiving comes an increased risk to an individual’s health. Parry’s previous study has found that unpaid caregiving was associated with high amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression, which in turn can lead to the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, in addition to ongoing negative impacts on mental health.

To ensure that this current study is more reflective of Canada’s population, Parry and the researchers involved are working closely with partners in the community such as the Pentecost International Worship Centre, the Council for Agencies Serving South Asians, and the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care among many others to recruit participants from among these organization’s members and communities, and are encouraging anyone who identifies as an unpaid caregiver and who is 18 years of age or older to consider participating.

Interested participants are asked to visit the study website to complete the survey.

In addition to partnering with organizations, the study also includes an Engagement Advisory Committee formed by unpaid caregivers who have shared their lived experiences in a series of videos to encourage participation from their peers.

“We have heard from our members of the community that until they had taken our survey, they had not recognized their own needs as caregivers and the impact of caregiving on their health,” says Parry. “I think this illustrates just how important this study is in helping us understand what caregivers are experiencing and what they will need in the future.”

Parry also points out that as a result of the pandemic, unpaid caregiving is likely increasing because many people simply do not want to see their family members or friends in long-term care settings. They are she says, doing “heroic things,” like juggling work and bills and children, in addition to caregiving responsibilities, just to keep their loved ones at home.

“We truly want to include the voices of all unpaid caregivers and paint a full picture of what their needs are, and how caregiving impacts them, so we encourage anyone who is in the role of an unpaid caregiver to take our survey and help us ensure that their needs are being met,” says Parry.