Mandy Kent, mother of two children in Los Angeles said that she dropped everything on very short notice and was forced into quarantine with two scared kids. She tested Covid negative but the pressure was too high and the stress was intense.
The Covid 19 pandemic has made us extra cautious about the health and safety of our loved ones and families and has taken a toll on our mental health. A majority of caregivers are feeling burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression. The virus has pushed individuals to the edge, but it is not new for caregivers to feel this way.
The US Spends Four Times Less On Health Policies Than Other Developed Countries
According to a Child Care Aware report, childcare costs twice more than college tuition in 32 states, which makes it a financial burden for many families. Many employers provide maternity leaves in jobs, but most are unpaid which forces new mothers to resume working two weeks after giving birth. The caregivers have faced crises emotionally and financially for ages, from eldercare struggles and child care closures.
Joe Biden proposed a plan called Build Back Better which is being debated by Congress. It included fundings to provide paid medical and family leave programs, make pre-K available and reduce childcare costs and expand child care access.
The bill included an expenditure of $400 billion on childcare and pre-K and $225 to $550 billion on paid leave. This has been the most expensive bill but only accounts for 10% of total annual health expenditure. According to reports, the US spent $3.8 trillion on health which was higher than any other developed nation in the world.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 90% of expenditure on health goes to mental and chronic health conditions. Research and studies have always linked stress to conditions like depression, obesity, heart attack, and autoimmune diseases.
Nearly $110 billion or 3% of healthcare expenditures are done on preventive medicines, and ironically more deaths are attributed to preventive diseases. If health is conceptualized broadly, we should consider stress. On comparing health policies of other nations, the US has under-invested in supporting caregivers and families, like early childcare, paid sick, and family leave.
America is last on its expenditure on early childhood. Nations like Finland, Denmark, and Norway spend four times more than the US. These policies include stress-related illnesses and stress exposure, especially during major life transitions to parenthood or older adulthood.
Stress penetrates our bodies and develops heart strain, poor sleep, fast aging of the brain, and weakened immune system. Stress can majorly impact especially during times like delivering a baby or change in hormones. Stress caused in older adulthood causes illness.
According to a clinical psychologist of New York, Dr. Allison Applebaum said she has lost count of how many caregivers turned into patients in her clinic. Caregivers are experiencing severe insomnia, chronic anxiety, and chronic depression. She added that people are so busy balancing their life and caring about their families that they stop looking after themselves. They often neglect their own medical care.
Caregivers without any income or job security can especially feel mental health taking a toll on them. She experienced it firsthand when she was working and taking care of her father. She said that she took him to hospital and got a bacterial inflammation but she had no time and got herself hospitalized as her immune system got weak.
When caregivers are not supported with effective policies we miss opportunities to promote child and adult health. If we can ease Stress and transition periods like childhood and parenthood, we can prevent late-life diseases.