Caring for the Caregivers

 

If you or your loved one is a caregiver, free therapy and resources may be available if you have limited income.

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Caring for Caregivers (evolving from the Jean Steirn Cancer Program) is designed to provide uninsured and low income informal caregivers with individual, couples or family therapy that is necessary to assist in overcoming the overwhelming psychological adjustments that families must face when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-long, debilitating illness, and when loved ones need to make end of life decisions. In an Alliance/AARP 2004 study, (Alliance/AARP study © 2004 National Family Caregivers Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving), one of the most frequently reported unmet needs of informal caregivers (29 percent) was “managing emotional and physical stress”.

Further, the added financial burden of not only the cost for medical care, but also the loss of income when hours of employment are adjusted to meet the needs of the ill family member can be devastating, leaving very little extra time or money to afford the psychological counseling that may be required to keep the family functioning in a healthy manner. Family psychological issues can range from adjustment to the shock of initial diagnosis; to the maintenance of a healthy family environment while juggling day-to-day family matters with the intensity and physical needs of the diagnosis; to additional strains caused by increased financial demands as well as the uncertainty of the family’s future.

In 2010, 27,801 people in Maryland were diagnosed with new cases of cancer and, although lung cancer is the leading cause of death for both men and women, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women in Maryland.  With 15.3 percent of our population who are “working poor”, 29.4 percent who are single-parent families with young children, hundreds of Maryland residents will only receive physical treatment without the financial means to afford mental health care.

The Jean Steirn Cancer program has gathered data for the past four years that shows 45 percent of requests for counseling are for the caregiving parents, spouses and children of the diagnosed patient. A study of the California Caregiver Resource Center reports, “20% to 50% of caregivers reporting depressive disorders or symptoms.” “Stress in family caregivers is inversely correlated to income: the less income a caregiver has, the more stress he or she is likely to experience.” In Maryland, 547,647 informal caregivers provide 587,000,000 hours of care each year.

We are grateful to the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, Inc for their support of this program.

When Mrs. R contacted the Pro Bono Counseling Project, she and her teenage son and daughter had been living for four years with her husband’s terminal diagnosis of a rare form of lung cancer. Her son was acting out and her daughter had said, “I can’t wait until he is dead”. His physicians had advised her to authorize a cessation of medical treatment, but she could not make that decision knowing the depth of their son’s relationship with his father. After the Jean Steirn Cancer Program arranged their first month of family counseling, Mrs. R. reported, “it felt like there was a huge burden on me to facilitate the process, but now it felt like a huge weight was lifted and the therapist is very knowledgeable.” Although she followed the physician’s advice, her husband lived another year. Their family continued therapy sporadically throughout the year; and recently their clinical social worker reports that they resumed, to heal together following his death.

 
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