A new survey from Carers NI has revealed the extent to which unpaid carers are experiencing significant levels of mental ill health.
The State of Caring 2023 report points out that unpaid caring is a ‘major driver’ of mental illness, with a quarter of respondents describing their mental health as bad or very bad. These levels were even worse among people undertaking long-term and intense caring roles.
As far as respondents’ symptoms are concerned, the study identifies significant rates of anxiety and stress (84%), low mood (84%), irritability and mood swings (80%), the inability to switch off from worrying about caring (80%), hopelessness (72%) and depression (49%).
‘The pressure facing carers,’ it says, ‘is leaving some considering extreme courses of action, with 24% of carers saying they have had thoughts related to suicide or self-harm. One carer indicated this was a regular feature of their life, stating that “suicidal thoughts are never too far away.”’
When someone experiences any of the symptoms listed above, the natural response is to find ways of addressing such challenges. However, according to the research, carers face major obstacles in prioritising their own wellbeing. Just over three quarters said that they had continued to provide care, even as they felt like they had reached a breaking point. The main barrier to seeking help, for 53% of those polled, was the job itself, namely caring for another person.
The survey also highlighted the overlap between loneliness and poor mental health outcomes, as well as the routinely divergent experiences of individuals who do and do not feel isolated: ‘Carers who said they feel lonely always, often or sometimes were over three times more likely to describe their mental health as bad or very bad than those who never or hardly ever feel lonely. They… reported much higher levels of depression, stress, anxiety, and more.’
Worryingly, an overwhelming majority (70%) of carers either haven’t received any mental health support or are relying on informal networks. Indeed, nearly one in five had never asked for assistance because they were unaware of what was out there or where to find it.
Given that mental health provision in Northern Ireland relies on thousands of unpaid – and often unseen – carers, Inspire continues to campaign on their behalf. We have long called for appropriate recognition for carers, many of whom who look after loved ones living with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, along with new rights that protect and promote their interests.
Elsewhere, our Community Wellbeing hub is home to a broad range of resources designed to assist the public’s mental health, from information on anxiety, loneliness, isolation and stress to self-help programmes and various services. Be sure to check it out.
In addition, for anyone in need of guidance on a range of mental health-related issues, Inspire’s Advocacy for All service aims to give people the right mental health support at the right time. Click here to find out more.