The term ‘carer’ is not an easy one. An unpaid carer refers to someone who provides support – practical and/or emotional – to an adult or child with an illness, disability, frailty, mental health problems or experience of substance misuse. It’s an uneasy term perhaps to use about oneself and many people prefer the terms ‘husband, daughter, brother, friend’. Over 70,000 people in Sheffield (1 in 8) are carers (and that’s just the people who self-identify).
It can often be quite an unseen role – many people in this position are unable to take much time for themselves, perhaps because the person they care for is not safe to be on their own due to dementia or epilepsy. Often carers find they are consistently unable to attend social occasions and start to find it difficult to maintain friendships. Often people find it very difficult to maintain their own physical and emotional health because they’ve become used to prioritising someone else’s needs.
During the coronavirus lockdown, we’ve been ‘clapping for carers’ on a Thursday. I had hoped that the press might also raise awareness that family members are a massive part of the national body of carers. During a time when many people have been unwell, many more family members, friends and neighbours have been doing the shopping, calling to check-in, providing hands-on care. I wonder how different people have found this experience. Yet, for many, hopefully this has been a short-term experience. For others, caring for several years, it can become an identity.
Through my role at Sheffield Carers Centre, I provide emotional support, advice and advocacy to carers. I’ve been so struck, during the lockdown, by how different people have managed – some have said they feel much more resilient than normal and have less pressure on them (perhaps because they’re not trying to help their husband get ready for a 9am hospital appointment when it takes a few hours to give him a shower and get dressed); some have said they feel much less ‘left out’ than normal, because other people’s lives have slowed down to their pace (it’s amazing how inclusive online contact and phone calls are for people who can’t easily leave the house and normally miss out on a trip to the pub). Others, though, have found a difficult situation to be made much harder by the lockdown. Those who rely on respite or even a few hours out a week where they’re not on high alert, have not had this because of the risk of the virus if careworkers come into their homes or they go to a care home facility. Others might have watched a family member struggle even more with their mental health or addiction. As with everything, individual experience varies greatly.
I consider us all to have a role in preventing carers from feeling isolated. Often what people say they value is acknowledgement of how hard this is and regular contact from friends to offload or just to feel a part of something different.
I think that caring for a family member or friend is an incredible act of love. Yet I find that the most common phrase I use at work is ‘you’re important too’. So, if you are in this position yourself, hear that phrase. And if you know someone who you realise might be in this situation, perhaps you could remind them of it too.
Sheffield Carers Centre – 0114 272 8362,