A view from the other side

I love blogging; it’s a great way of articulating a thousand and one things that go on in my head, and attempting to make some sense of it.
Something quite shocking happened to me this week, which really got me thinking. One of the people I love the most in life told me that they had considered ‘taking a bottle of pills and not waking up again’. As I write this I wonder why I am. I think it’s because I need to share with as many people as possible about the reason they feel like this.
This person is a carer. They care for an elderly person full time. They are completely overwhelmed with the burden of what caring for our loved ones bring. Now I know I should be writing that caring for our loved ones is honourable and shows love and commitment to that person, and to some extent it should be our duty and the most kind and compassionate thing we can do for those we love, and it is, but it’s also a strain, a burden, a heavy weight that they wear all day and night. It removes their own lives, often their own dreams and their plans. It stops life still.

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Listening to this one person, who is also my best friend, and who confided in me about how they feel, it made me think about how many other people are in the same position, who care for their loved one and feel the strain that it brings.
I wondered desperately who I could turn to, to get them help, I should know, after all this isn’t the first time I had come into contact with people who are carers. I have been working in the NHS for 16 years now, but I didn’t know who and where to go.
There are the obvious, social services, family GP, but being in the know, I knew that the person being cared for wouldn’t want any care at home, or respite. That this would leave all responsibility to the carer.
Being a carer is so underestimated, it’s a lonely place. Often it’s not something which is built into our life plans; it’s unexpected and unwelcomed, it also often brings with it, the deep sadness of an illness or deterioration in someone we care for.
There is currently no duty on health bodies to identify and support carers, the Care Bill 2013 places the duty to do this with local authorities.
According to Care UK ‘every year over 2 million people start caring’ there is a great amount of evidence to suggest that carers do suffer with burden and also burn out. That becoming a full time carer can have massive effects on our mental health. It is therefore essential that we, the NHS ensure that we identify, signpost and proactively support people who find themselves in these positions as early as possible. If evidence suggests that the impact on health, wellbeing and finance of carers is significant, then we need to get better at managing this.
I would imagine it takes time to come to terms with the fact you are a carer, and I’m sure many would not give themselves a title for the role they do. I believe we should therefore have a duty to identify these people wherever they initially present.
Care UK suggest that full time carers are twice as likely to be in bad health as the rest of the population and argue that health professionals should be active in seeking to address these health inequalities and that a new duty on the NHS would make it easier for health and social care to work together to support carers – I have to agree. Here are some key figures from Care UK’s bill briefing:

• Two in five (42%) carers felt they missed out on financial support because they did not get the right information early enough

• 84% of carers said their health had got worse as a result of caring

• Carers UK’s research found that 1 in 3 full-time carers receives no practical support

I think what surprises me most within those findings is, that I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware, not really, not until this week. I think I had some superficial awareness that caring for someone especially full time was hard, but didn’t understand fully the impact on mental health this brings.
Anyone who knows me should know that I love the NHS, it’s a truly wonderful thing we have. But I wonder if we are as proactive on managing and supporting people with the potential for mental health illness when we have the facts and figures so clearly in front of us. I wonder what we need to do to make things better for those millions of people who are isolated and feeling lonely, shouldering the heavy weight of caring. I wonder…

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