Life as one of the UK’s six million carers can be tough

Simon Lawton Smith, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation:

"Life as one of the UK’s six million carers can be tough. The long hours and often arduous work involved in caring for someone can take their toll, both physically and emotionally.

To make it even harder, new research by the Carers Trust has suggested that a large number of unpaid carers are struggling without any support. 64% of the 500 carers surveyed had never accessed any support services, such as respite breaks and counselling, and relied solely on family and friends for help. In fact, almost half were not even aware that there were any support services available to them.

But what was most striking was that over half of the respondents said that their mental health has suffered due to their caring role. When we consider the sheer number of carers in the UK, the extent of this problem  is clearly huge.

The issue of poor mental health in carers is particularly worrying for young carers,  who may themselves be emotionally vulnerable and struggling with the pressures of growing up.

This was something we looked in our MyCare report, a study of young carers, specifically those caring for parents with severe mental illness. Currently, it is estimated that between 50,000- 200,000 young people in the UK are caring for a parent with mental health problems. The definition of ‘care’ is very broad. Young carers can help with physical tasks such as cooking and shopping, personal care such as washing and dressing, administering medication, and giving emotional support.

Caring for a parent with mental illness can have all kinds of repercussions for young people. From regular lateness or absence from school, disruptive behaviour, bullying (68% of young carers are bullied in school), difficulty in completing tasks. The list goes on. And of course, it can impact on the young person’s own mental health.

Our MyCare report gives comprehensive recommendations for policy, young carers' services, mental health services and schools. Among other things, we recommend more age-appropriate information about mental health and mental illness to be available for young carers so they can better understand parental behaviour. More investment in young carers' support services - no matter which postcode the carer may live in. More support in schools, so that teachers and other staff are aware of issues surrounding both mental illness and care.

Above all, it needs to be clear that help is available, so that carers,  whatever their age or circumstances, don’t have to struggle without any support."

Find out about our MyCare report here.

Published 15 May 2012 |
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