Kieran* has been caring for his mother since he was a small child. She has complex mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, and needs a lot of emotional support as well as help with cooking, cleaning, paying bills. A few years ago, he gave up the idea of ever going to university and now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, he has lost his job and rarely sees his friends. He feels isolated and exhausted.
Kieran’s story isn’t unique. He’s one of thousands of people across Devon working around the clock to help and care for relatives and friends who couldn’t manage on their own.
In fact, the number of people caring for loved ones in Devon is predicted to have risen by half again to over 130,000 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But worryingly only 20,000 of those are accessing the vital support available to them through Devon Carers to help maintain their own health and wellbeing.
The charity, which is commissioned by Devon County Council and NHS Devon, provides information, advice and support for people who care for others, whether they are looking after an elderly, sick or disabled relative all or some of the time, or just providing a few hours a week emotional support for a friend with a learning difficulty or mental health problem – they are there to help you do it safely, confidently and effectively.
However, between April and June 2020 half as many people approached Devon Carers than usual. So, at a time when more people than ever are having to take on caring responsibilities and with little or no time to look after themselves, Devon Carers is urgently reaching out to help and encourage people to get in touch.
Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adults Social Care and Health Services, said:
“The coronavirus pandemic means more people are caring for loved ones than ever before, and for some, that can feel quite overwhelming, especially at such a difficult time.
“You might think it’s just a bit of cooking, a few lifts here and there or a shoulder to cry on, but caring can bring a whole host of responsibilities and worries and can have a real impact on your own health and wellbeing.
“Many people won’t even think of themselves as carers, because the person they are looking after is a relative, but you are, and there’s support available to you through Devon Carers.”
Traditionally carers have often been older themselves, but research shows that since coronavirus, more younger people – people with their own young families for example – have started providing care to loved ones.
Research has also found that 55 per cent of carers commented on the negative impact of caring on their ability to do their paid work, and 53 per cent said it had affected their finances.
Unpaid carers in general are also doing more hours caring per week, up to 30 hours more in some cases, with nearly two thirds reporting that they have been unable to take a break in the last six months, resulting in a decline in their own wellbeing.
Billy Hartstein, Head of Carers Services at Devon Carers, said:
“If you’re caring for someone else, you often struggle to care for yourself and frequently miss out on the things most people take for granted.
“You constantly put other people’s needs before your own, but don’t see yourself as being a carer because you’re looking after your wife, brother, best friend or neighbour.
“You’re busy doing the things anyone would do for someone they love; tidying, cleaning, cooking, washing or shopping, and you quickly find you’re too busy to do the thing you need to do to take good care of yourself. Things like going to the doctors about your own health or your finances are taking a hit because you’ve had to reduce your hours at work because you can’t fit it all in.
“But support is available, so please get in touch. Devon Carers is on hand to help with everything from accessing benefits, your rights as a carer, tips on looking after yourself and putting you in touch with other carers so you feel less alone.”
Ian Rogers, Carer Ambassador for Devon Carers said:
“As full time carers for our adult daughter with learning difficulties and fragile mental health, my wife and I are acutely aware of our own need for support in our role as parent carers, which has only become more so during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The support offered by Devon Carers is vital in this regard and I encourage other carers of all situations to get in touch and find out more about what they offer.”
If you help someone who couldn’t manage on their own, or know someone who does, get in touch.
Support is available for carers at devoncarers.org.uk/support or call 01392 307720
*Names changed to preserve anonymity.