The Giving Caregivers: Resilience as a Double-Edged Sword in the Context of Healthcare

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In this paper we challenge an assumption about caregivers of chronic patients that we’ve repeatedly encountered in our ethnographic fieldwork: that of the inherently and permanently resilient caregiver, or a person that, driven by feelings of affection for the chronic patient, will remain strong regardless of the challenges posed by the healthcare system or the disease itself. We describe three deeply rooted beliefs that explain why this assumption is still widespread within healthcare systems: the belief in caregiving as female calling, or the fact that women are assumed to have not just a biological advantage, but an interest in caregiving, the belief in individuality, or the fact that individuals are thought to have a preexisting and inalterable identity, and the belief in the pathological origin of mental illness, or the fact that we tend to ignore structural causes and social determinants of mental and emotional distress. We provide theoretical and practical evidence to support each belief and suggest tangible ways in which ethnographers and research teams working in healthcare can start to challenge said beliefs—and, as a result, transcend the assumption of the inherently resilient caregiver. Keywords: Caregiver resilience, feminization of caregiving, individuality vs. collectivity, social determinants of mental illness

Article citation: 2022 EPIC Proceedings pp 235–244, ISSN 1559-8918,

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