March 29th, 2020

More than 1 in 10 people are carers. We need to shed more light on how they can get through this period

By Dan Whale

  • Therapy
  • Stress
  • Family

According to figures gathered before the coronavirus outbreak, there are an estimated 7 million informal carers in the UK. 1 in 10 people. Whilst the country is making its best efforts to contain the coronavirus as best it can, there remain to be millions of people up and down the UK that need to visit a friend or relative on a very regular basis.

What’s more, the number of informal carers will have significantly increased since the isolation period began. People may not realise it just yet, but whether it’s dropping food and medication to a relative or being a support for those with mental health conditions that are being exacerbated by the crisis, more and more of us are now to be acting in a carer role.

Our primary efforts are of course on those that need care, doing all that we can to stop them from catching this virus. However it is also vitally important that carers get the support they need. Being a carer can be a real mental challenge at the best of times - in this unusual period that we find ourselves in, it can be harder still.

Below, you can find some information on identifying whether you are an informal carer and, if so, how you can maintain your mental health whilst caring for others.

Am I a carer?

Many relationships involve levels of support which may be tilted to one person. However, if you find yourself regularly supporting someone else in any of the following ways (compiled by Mind, you are considered to be an informal carer.

  • Giving emotional support
  • Helping someone seek help for a mental health problem
  • Helping someone cope with a mental health problem
  • Cooking and cleaning
  • Personal care like washing and going to the toilet
  • Budgeting and looking after finances
  • Supporting them to live with others in your family (e.g. brothers and sisters)
  • Helping other family members understand the needs of the person you are caring for
  • Giving medicine or providing medical care
  • Going to appointments and advocating on their behalf (helping them express their views and wishes)
  • Checking they are safe

Putting someone else’s wellbeing before your own can be emotionally draining and cause frustrations within your relationship, even if it is someone you love. This is completely normal and not something to feel ashamed about.

The following techniques draw from elements of Compassion Focussed Therapy, a mode of therapy which highlights the attributes of both inward and outward compassion. When you feel that caring for others is stopping you from feeling like your best Self, try to remember these.

Recognise your limitations: Whether you are required in a physical sense to help others dress and get around, or in a more emotional capacity, providing support and reassurance for someone that has OCD, it is important to accept that you have limitations.

You may not be able to help someone as much as you want to, you cannot dedicate your life entirely to another person. If you feel that someone needs more help than you can reasonably give, ask for help.

Be kind to yourself: When caring for another and seeing the difficulties they are facing, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re not doing enough, you’re not being a good partner/child/parent. It’s unlikely that this is the case, you just feel bad for them and want the best for them.

Being compassionate towards yourself increases your ability to be compassionate towards others. Make sure you have enough time to still do certain things that you enjoy - give yourself breaks, go on walks. Try to get some exercise, even if it’s just some basic yoga moves in your living room. Taking time for yourself not only makes you feel better but will help you maintain a healthy relationship with the person/s you’re caring for.

Ask for help: The most important and underused tip - don’t be afraid to ask for help. Caring for another when you have yourself, and perhaps a family, to take care of is by no means easy. Asking someone else to give you a hand is not an indication that you’d rather be doing other things than looking after someone you love, it is an acceptance that there are only so many hours in the day and in order to stay positive in this difficult period you may well need a bit of time for yourself.

Help can range from a family member or friend assisting you in some way, or a paid carer taking a lot of your main responsibilities off your hands. More information on how to get help from a professional carer can be found here.

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We’re hearing a lot at the moment about the need to stick together, but this does not mean you’re not allowed to take care of yourself. Taking time to show yourself some compassion will not only help you get through this period, but those you care for as well.

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