How to handle harmful stigmas around caregiving



Caregiving is hard enough without having to deal with the expectations and judgements that family, friends and outsiders put on you. 

There’s the stigma of caring for someone who has mental health issues, and stigmas about the care for someone else’s personal hygiene. 

People don’t know what to think or how to deal with these situations, which doesn’t help you or your loved one feel any better or handle stress in a healthy way. Knowing what stigmas exist around caregiving can give you the power to change you and your loved one’s relationship with others. 


Recognizing the stigma of family caregiving

Most caregivers of people with mental illness are familiar with stigma, according to the not-for-profit White Swan Foundation, which provides research and information to people with mental health and their caregivers.

According to the foundation, “studies, though few in number, indicate that families of people with mental health issues also face stigma by association with the stigmatized.”

There are the personal feelings of shame, and there are also the effects on your work life. For instance, 

In a survey done by the Home Instead Senior Care Network, the company found that 23 percent of working female caregivers report their supervisor being unsympathetic to them having to care for an aging parent outside the workplace. 

Besides having to handle a boss that doesn’t understand the strain that caregiving can be, “91percent of female caregivers report having had to take action to accommodate being an employee and a caregiver.These steps include “taking paid time off, switching from full time to part time, avoiding certain responsibilities and turning down promotions.”

How to handle the stigma of caregiving for someone with a mental illness 

According to a study about caregivers for people with schizophrenia, “Stigma comprises negative internal emotions triggered by external factors, therefore patients with mental illness often feel ashamed because of their disease condition or their perceptions of inferiority to others.”  

For a disease like Alzheimer's the Alzheimer’s Association recommends open communication first and foremost between friends and family members of the person with Alzheimer’s. Keeping up with your social connections and asking for support is important for both caregivers and those with the disease.  

Recognition can also go a long way in improving the quality of life for the patient and caregiver.

When it comes to mental illness, knowing others with the same mental illness can reduce the stigma and even lead to better chances of treatment. This is according to a former director of the World Health Organization mental health division, Dr. Norman Sartorius. 

In an interview with the White Swan foundation, Sartorius details that, “unless one can change the image of a mentally ill person and also change the image of the life that they lead, it is very difficult to make any progress. So I would say that the greatest hurdle to improving mental health care is stigma.”

Working to change someone’s attitude towards mental illness can change how that person treats someone with a mental illness to a more positive fashion. This in turn helps them seek care.


How caregiving can affect your own mental health

Stress from caregiving is commonly experienced, and can lead to other health problems, such as: 

  • Mental health problems 
  • A less-positive look at personal health 
  • Higher blood pressure 
  • Lower immune function 


These symptoms are of built up stress from caregiving according to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress. According to the Centre, “caregiving maintains all the features of a chronic stressor. It maintains psychological and physical strain over long periods of time, has the capacity to create secondary stress in various areas of life such as the workplace and family relations…”

On top of this, “the addition of a society that is perceived to be rejecting and stigmatizing makes life even more stressful and arduous for caregivers.”

These are the realities of caring for a loved one, and a sacrifice that can be invisible to the rest of the world. 


How SeaCare can help 

Sometimes all it takes is some humor to lighten up the situation, or an outside person to bring different energy into the room. 

A hired caregiver can set an example of how to interact with your loved one around others who don’t know how to communicate with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. This can take the pressure and stress off of you as the primary caretaker. 

A respite caregiver can give a full-time caregiver a break, even if only for 4 hours a week. Any sort of break from caregiving can give you a mental reset and space to handle stress in a healthy way. 

We recently wrote about avoiding caregiver burnout and how to ask for help, even if you think you don’t need it. We also have resources for communities of color in particular.

Give SeaCare a call today if you think you could benefit from having a professional caregiver. 





If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.


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