The 11th-17th June is Carers Week and across the UK people are recognising the invaluable contribution that carers make to the lives of so many that depend on them – but who looks after the carers? Clare-Anne Magee is the General Manager at Carers NI and in our blog she explains how their latest report highlights the need for carers to be supported to stay healthy – both physically and mentally.
In Northern Ireland there are over 220,000 carers who look after family members or friends who are sick, elderly or disabled. This year Carers Week charities are focusing on how to ensure carers stay healthy and connected in order to carry out their caring role both now and into the future.
Carers NI recently carried out research that shows almost three quarters (70%) of carers here in Northern Ireland say they have suffered mental ill-health as a result of their caring role, whilst 56% say that their physical health has suffered as a result of caring. Over half of carers said they expect their physical (57%) and mental health and well-being (61%) to get worse in the next two years whilst two in five said that they expect to be able to provide less care or no care in the future because of poor physical health. One third of carers (33%) who responded to our State of Caring survey felt that poor mental health would mean they would be able to provide less or no care in the future. And who will pick up the pieces then? Without the unpaid care provided every year by family and friends, our health and social care system would collapse. The physical and mental strain of caring, without enough support, is jeopardising carers’ ability to care both now and into the future.
All too often carers neglect their own mental and physical health; finding the time and space to be healthy, get enough sleep and maintain relationships with others are all huge challenges. Being left unprepared for carrying out care tasks and battling with a complex health, benefits and care system can add yet more stress onto carers.
Other areas of stress identified by carers included providing hands-on care for the person they care for, filling in forms for financial or practical support, arranging health appointments for the person they care for, not getting enough sleep, and worrying about what the person they care for is eating and drinking. The good news is that with the right support a lot of these issues could be unburdened.
Every Trust area has a Carer Co-ordinator, someone who can keep you informed of local help and support available; Carers NI provide a regional advice and information service to support carers with all aspects of their caring; local condition-specific organisations such as MS Society, MNDA and Macmillan are also seeing the importance of supporting carers and often have carer support groups available too. Age NI can also provide advice and information if you’re an older carer and although some further work with GP’s is needed, they too can be a great source of information at a local level.
The enormous contribution made by Northern Ireland’s unpaid carers must not be taken for granted. This year the Carers Week charities are calling on communities, policy-makers, health care professionals, employers, and the wider public to encourage carers to get connected to health and wellbeing services to ensure they are recognised and supported not just with their caring role but in all aspects of their daily lives.
Are you a carer? Do you feel supported by your GP and other health services? Do you have any ideas on how carers can be supported to live healthy and well? Tell us in the comments section below!
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