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01/Feb/2018

 

Loneliness in caring – a silent epidemic

Clare-Ann Magee, Carers NI

7 in 10 carers in Northern Ireland have experience of loneliness and social isolation as a result of their caring role. Clare-Anne Magee, Carers NI explains the effect loneliness has on carers, and what’s being done to help combat this silent epidemic.

"Caring touches many people’s lives yet society and public services often fail to grasp how isolating looking after a loved-one can be.  Without support to have a life outside caring, it can be incredibly lonely, worsened by financial pressures, poor understanding from friends and colleagues, and a lack of regular breaks. Loneliness is a powerful, sometimes over-whelming emotion, and all too many carers, and those no longer caring, suffer in silence.

The loneliness carers experience is caused by a range of circumstances, many of them out of their control. Carers may be so busy that there is little time or energy left to see friends and other family.  Emotional demands of caring for a loved one and focussing on their well-being means those carers often neglect their own.  The world simply shrinks. The life of a carer can become one of providing and co-ordinating care, taking loved-ones to medical appointments, going to the pharmacy, liaising with care workers, etc.. Carers can feel invisible; fading into the background and the needs of the person being looked after takes centre stage. It can be lonely bearing so much of the responsibility of caring for a loved one.

Carers UK (of which Carers NI is part of), is one of the founding partners of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, and we’re aiming to ‘Start a Conversation’ around loneliness, mobilising the public to combat the silent epidemic by destigmatising a prevalent but often unaddressed issue.

The Commission produced a report back in August 2017 which showed that alongside a lack of understanding from others, carers most frequently ascribed loneliness or social isolation to a lack of time or money to socialise and the difficulty of leaving the house due to caring commitments.

Carers feeling ‘uncomfortable’ talking to others about care responsibilities was a key barrier to inclusion at work, home and in the community. Younger carers (under 24 years old), carers of disabled children, those who care 50hrs+ per week or “sandwich” carers are particularly vulnerable to experiencing loneliness.

We also shouldn’t forget about those whose caring role has come to an end. For some, caring has been their life and when that role finishes they can struggle with adapting to life after caring, re-engaging with friends/family or re-entering the workforce.  

Carers have identified what would make the difference to helping reduce loneliness:

  • Regular breaks from caring
  • More understanding from society
  • Being able to take part in leisure activities
  • More understanding at work
  • Being in touch with other carers
  • Feeling more able to talk with friends and family
  • Being able to take part in education or training

Support is available for carers, through carer support groups, talking to your GP or health professional, online forums or just talking to friends or family about how you’re feeling can really help. Creating a better understanding of caring, which respects, values and supports carers will help us have a society where nobody has to care alone.

Carers NI offer a regional advice and information service for carers/former carers and those working with carers. Tel: 02890 439843 Email: advice@carersni.org


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