When one thinks of vulnerable groups, ideas spring to mind of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged – but what about those who provide care to these groups? Carers are not only among those most likely to suffer with mental and physical health problems, but are also among the least likely to seek help, making them a vulnerable group themselves.
However an individual becomes a carer, either as a career choice, or by chance for a loved one or family member, it often becomes a defining feature of their life. While those who care for a loved one can claim up to 35 hours’ worth of carer’s allowance a week, personal accounts often suggest that carers commit up to double this amount. Further, because of the nature of the job, it is not uncommon for carers to be less self-focused than the average person, where their main concern is often for those that they provide care for. However, in many cases this can mean that they may fail to notice problems with their own health until it becomes serious, and therefore caring is considered a high-risk profession with vulnerable group status.
Carers, as their title would suggest, are naturally caring and considerate individuals, however their tendency to put others before themselves can mean that they tend to ignore the warning signs of several health problems, both physical and mental. Their jobs are often characterised by a high degree of stress, which in turn leads to poorer immune system functioning, and higher propensity for illness and stress-related health problems. Carers are also amongst those rated to be the most underpaid and overworked, often putting in more hours than they should, especially if caring for a family member. All this combined makes carers more prone to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and other Mental Health issues.
Being a carer can begin very young, or later on in life, but can have adverse effects on many aspects of life, including relationships, education and financial security. While this is not always the case, it is important to consider the extra pressures put on this group. According to Carers Trust UK, 45% of young adult carers reported mental health problems, while 68.8% of older carers said that caring has an adverse effect on their mental health. Young adult carers are 4x more likely to drop out of college or university than other students, with 13% owing this to financial reasons. Of course, we want to ensure that this group is not disadvantaged in this way – as if anyone is deserving of a happy and fulfilling life, it is those who dedicate themselves to caring.
It is vital, therefore, that services are in place to ensure the wellbeing of carers, who play an invaluable role in society. The survival of so many people depends on the passion and commitment of carers, who selflessly give up so much of their time and energy for others and expect little in return. One important aspect of this service should be ensuring the good mental health of carers, considering the high-risk factor for this cohort. Ensuring that carers have access to mental health services that suit them is potentially the key to solving many other issues, as it may provide the confidence they need to continue studying, help them to plan financially, or even relieve the stress that may contribute to health problems. Considering the long and often anti-social hours carers work, it is important that services are available to suit everyone’s needs – which is where new technology such as online video therapy (e.g. Dr Julian) may help, however ensuring that carers are made aware of the services out there is the first step.
One thing that is clear is that we need to give carers more credit, and do more to help them. If you know a carer, take the time to ask how they are, and if you happen to be in the position to make a carers life that little bit easier, do so. Your influence could have a huge impact on somebody’s life, and as a consequence the lives of those they care for too – so ensuring the health of a carer is also ensuring the health of others too. And, if you yourself are a carer, take time to consider your own mental and physical health today. There are plenty of services available to carers if you have the time to search for them, and new technology is emerging daily which may make caring for yourself that little bit easier – such as online mental health advice and video talk therapies. Take the first step towards caring for yourself – you definitely deserve it.
To say thank you for all the work carers do for us and those that we love, we are offering a discount of 50% on all Dr Julian online therapy sessions using the code “CARE50”. This means that carers can book a video or audio call with a trusted therapist at a time of their convenience, through their smartphone or tablet, for as little as £30 an hour.