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Care for caregivers who support people living with mental health concerns

What is a mental health caregiver?

Mental health caregivers are people who tend to the needs of a person with short-or long-term limitations due to mental health challenges (John Hopkins University, 2024). This can include formal caregivers, like mental health professionals, but most commonly, caregivers are family members of the person struggling. Caregivers for those who struggle with health and mental health concerns serve a crucial role in the recovery of those in their care. They often provide critical social, emotional, financial and other supports (Sunderland et al., 2013).

Caregivers provide 75% of all patient care in Canada and save the economy at least $25 billion annually (MHCC, 2019 & Hollander, Liu & Chappell, 2009).

Challenges faced by mental health caregivers

Mental health struggles

People who care for someone with mental health concerns often struggle with their own mental health. It is common for caregivers to experience “caregiver burden,” which is “the sensation of emotional or physical tension felt by caregivers” (Cham et al., 2022, para. 1). At least 30% of mental health caregivers suffer from caregiver burden. (Cham et al., 2022). The resulting psychological distress can “affect the caregiver’s quality of life and health, but also reduce their productivity as an individual and their ability to provide quality care for the ill relative” (Cham et al., 2022, para. 3).

Caregivers can experience other adversities, too. Social isolation, financial difficulties, and feelings of anger, aggression, frustration, low self-esteem and helplessness can also be experienced by mental health caregivers (Phillips et al., 2022).

Positive outcomes of caregiving

Caregiving can be a rewarding experience that facilitates personal growth, maturity, and resilience. Caregivers have reported in surveys that they experience feelings of gratitude, meaningfulness, and a sense of self-mastery and coherence in their lives. Often, the relationship between caregiver and those they care for grows stronger as well (Phillips et al., 2022).

Care for caregivers

Caregivers need support, too, given the mental health struggles they may face themselves while caring for a person with mental health concerns.

Making time to care for oneself can be challenging, especially for a caregiver. Lack of time, the belief that self-care is selfish, and/or not knowing where to go to ask for help are all challenges that can be faced by caregivers (Ottawa Public Health et al., 2016).

Caregivers may be so overwhelmed with supporting someone that they may not have time to care for themselves. If this is the case, help is available.


Caregivers can become aware of their own mental health by learning what circumstances or situations affect it. If they notice that they’re struggling, they need to do their best to make time to bring their mental health back into balance. This might mean asking for more support with their caregiving duties to lighten their load or so they can take a break (Smit, 2017).


Engaging in self-care, even when their mental health is in balance, is important for caregivers. Caregivers who are attentive to their own physical and mental health are better able to support themselves and those they’re giving care too (NAMI, 2024). Self-care can include any activity that a person finds enjoyable or relaxing such as listening to music, going for a walk, or reading a book (Smit, 2017). The Mental health caregiver guide provides mental health caregivers with tips, tools, and information on how to care for themselves (Ottawa Public Health et al., 2016).

Peer support

Peer support is a truly positive and effective resource caregivers can utilize to help maintain their wellbeing. “Peers” are people with similar life experiences who also have a professional role. Their life experiences make them ideally suited to support people facing similar adversities (Acri et al., 2017). Peer support programs offer information and psychosocial support, reduce social isolation, and help connect people struggling with their mental health and their caregivers to others with similar health issues. Engaging in peer support programs is a fundamental way in which caregivers can manage the illness of a loved one and also learn to engage actively and confidently with physicians (Joo et al., 2022).

Caregiver Connections

Caregiver Connections provides compassionate support and resources to help you navigate your caregiving journey. Caregiver Connection offers peer-to-peer support for those who care for loved ones with mental health challenges. This program is available in six Alberta regions. With the support of trained peers with lived experience, parents and caregivers will learn how to best take care of themselves, ask for help when necessary and learn about the importance of boundaries. It is a safe place to gather for shared stories, education, resources and support.

Learn more about Caregiver Connections


Mental Health Caregiver Guide 

Provides tips, tools, and information about caregiver self-care and resilience. 

Listing of community-based, non-clinical health and social services.  

Caregiver Connections 

Peer-to-peer support in Alberta for those who are for a loved one with mental health challenges.  


Acri, M., Hooley, C., Richardson, N. & Moaba, L. (2017). Peer models in mental health for caregivers and families. Community Mental Health Journal, 53 (2), 241-249.  

Cham, C., Ibrahim, N., Siau, C., Kalaman, C., Ho, M., Yahya, A., Visvalingham, U., Roslan, S., Rahman, F. & Lee, K. (2022). Caregiver burden among caregivers with patients with mental illness: A systematic review. Healthcare, 10(12).   

Hollander, M., Liu, G. & Chappell, N. (2009). Who cares and how much? Healthcare Quarterly, 12(2), 42-49. 

Johns Hopkins University. (2024). Called to care.,to%20illness%2C%20injury%20or%20disability  

Joo, J., Bone, L., Forte, J., Kirley, J., Lynch, T. & Aboumatar, H. (2022). The benefits and challenges of established peer support programmes for patients, informal caregivers, and healthcare providers. Family Practice, 39(5), 902-912.  

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2019). Promising practices guide: Engaging caregivers in mental health and addiction services in Canada.Ottawa, Canada: Author.  

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2024). Taking care of yourself.,a%20huge%20impact%20on%20you 

Ottawa Public Health, Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Illness Caregivers Association of Canada, Canadian Public Health Association & Military Family Services. (2016). Mental health caregivers guide.  

Phillips, R., Durkin, M., Engward, H., Cable, G. & Iancu, M. (2023). The impact of caring for family members with mental illnesses on the caregiver: a scoping review. Health Promotion International, 38(3). 

Smit, C. (2017). Making self-care a priority: Caring for the carer. Whitireia Nursing and Health Journal, 24, 20-35. 

Sunderland, K., Mishkin W., Peer Leadership Group, Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2013). Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support. Calgary, AB: Mental Health Commission of Canada.   

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