During National Carers week, people are asked to become involved by attending or hosting an event. This can be a morning tea, afternoon tea, a walk or some other activity to raise awareness of the diversity of carers and caring roles, who they are and what they do.
What is a carer? – Well … a carer is anyone who cares (paid or unpaid) for a friend, family member or client who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.
Today’s blog is about the ‘unpaid carer’.
Am I correct in thinking that carers come about through necessity and not by choice? I read and re-read this assumption several times and think about how I came to be a carer. I guess it was out of necessity, but also it was my choice to do it out of love for a family member. So whilst it sounds a bit harsh it also rings true!
Words you hear often are that carers tend to neglect their own needs for that of the person being cared for. To a certain extent this is true, but unpaid carers often find it hard to take time out. In the case of one documentary I watched recently, the carers felt that only they could provide the standard of care needed and because the illness was terminal they wanted their daughter to see their faces in her last moments. This type of caring puts a strain on the whole family and in this situation the two older sisters had been totally neglected … is this fair?
There are many reasons carers work providing unpaid care, from financial necessity to social interaction or down to the fact that placements are just not there. Recently whilst looking for a place for Sharon I found there was not a place anywhere and our nearest offer was Melbourne which is 1000 km away. After having someone in my life for 42 years and her brother’s life for 60 years we could not dream of sending her there to be alone without any family members.
Although caring can and did have many positive and rewarding aspects, there were times when balancing these two roles was challenging. Caring can have an impact on many facets of your life in that you can become physically as well as emotionally exhausted. This can be because of suffering, pain or confusion on the face of the loved one. Time and time again you hear stories of emotional suffering of carers in caring for loved ones with dementia. If you know a carer give them a hug, cup of tea or even just the time of day, not only during National Carers Week but all year round.
A current Honorary Member of CWA of NSW, Mr Jack Heath, is CEO of SANE Australia. Sane Australia offers the following advice and tips:
- Caring can lead to stress, depression and other mental health issues.
- Caring can affect your relationship with your partner or other family members.
- If you are caring in a couple you may no longer be able to have the physical or emotional life you had together, nor enjoy shared activities or plan for a future together.
- Find local care and carer services near you
- Connect with other carers online and get support from our online communities
- Young carers can find it hard to go to school/college/university or keep up with course work.
- Give them time. Some people might prefer a text message or email rather than talking on the phone or face-to-face. This means they can get back to you when they feel ready. What’s important is that they know you’ll be there when they’re ready to get in touch. Others may prefer to hear a human voice, with a regular phone call instead.
- Try to be open-minded and non-judgemental. This can be hard with some of the behavioural changes associated with symptoms. For example, if someone starts staying in bed rather than meeting their responsibilities it can be tempting to attribute this to the individual rather than the condition. It is best to focus on how to deal with the symptoms rather than judge the behaviour
- Remember you are not to blame if things get difficult and try not to take hurtful comments personally. Some mental health conditions may involve increased anger and irritability that can be difficult for the person to control. At the same time, aggression and violence are always unacceptable. Do not hesitate to call on help in these circumstances, even if this involves the police.
- If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it or they might not. Letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue can be helpful.
- Try to avoid clichés. Phrases like ‘Cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘It could be worse’ won’t help and can make the person feel more isolated.
- Don’t just talk about mental health. Keep in mind that having a mental illness is just one part of a person’s experience. People aren’t defined solely by their health problems.
- Encouraging the person to do things without being unrealistic or demanding. For example, social contact is very important to our wellbeing and so encouraging outings and meetings with others can be helpful. Bear in mind this can sometimes feel daunting for someone affected by mental illness.
- Consider the person as a whole. Remember that they have the same range of personal, emotional and sexual needs as anyone else. Is their physical health being looked after by a GP? Are there alcohol or drug problems that needs attention?
If you are concerned about your caring role or its impact on you, contact the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 SANE (7263) for information, guidance, and referral for support.
See what support is available for carers? Click here or go to https://www.sane.org/families-carers/35-what-support-is-available-for-carers