Currently, in the UK there are 6.5 million carers - which equates to one in eight people. These are people who care for someone who is disabled, ill, older or suffering from a mental health condition. It is estimated that this number will rise; Carers UK foresee a 40% increase in the number of carers by 2037. This is partly because our society is living longer with illness or disability.
Caring may be required round the clock, or it may only be required a few hours a week. Regardless of how much time is spent on caring for others, being a carer can impact your life in a huge way.
On this page, we will look at some of these impacts and what forms of carer support are available. We will also discuss counselling for carers and how this can support your mental health and well-being.
What do carers do?
Caregivers are those who help other people in their day-to-day life. Unlike people who provide care professionally, most of these carers are friends or relatives of the person they are caring for.
This type of support is essential for helping loved ones get the most out of life, but understandably it can be taxing mentally and physically.
For some, caring becomes a sudden responsibility (for example if a loved one is involved in an accident or becomes ill). For others the responsibility creeps up on them - relatives begin to age and are unable to cope, or your partner's health deteriorates.
The responsibilities carers have will depend on the illness of the person they care for. Generally, carers will look to help loved ones in their everyday activities. This can range from feeding and clothing someone, to taking them out and socialising.
Juggling this sort of care with other responsibilities such as work and family life can be difficult. It is common for carers to suffer from heightened stress, making them susceptible to anxiety and depression.
If you’re a young carer looking for some help or advice, visit our Young carers page.
Counselling for carers
Many people undertaking a caring role can benefit from counselling. This is especially true if you feel the impacts of caring are affecting your mental or physical health.
For many caregivers, a huge amount of their time is spent on others. This allows them little time to focus on themselves. Counselling sessions can help with this.
Counselling offers you an opportunity to talk about your thoughts and feelings in a safe, confidential environment. It allows you the time and space to think about your needs. This can help you make sense of your emotions and develop coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be resolved.
If your role is causing you to feel stressed, anxious, or even depressed, talk therapy can be beneficial. You can learn important relaxation techniques and how to carry out self-care.
Far from being selfish, counselling for carers is often essential for ensuring your health and well-being. When you are feeling mentally and physically fit, you are in a better position to provide care for your loved one.
What if I don't have time for counselling?
Carers are often restricted in terms of time, especially when juggling work and caring. Looking for a counsellor who is local to you is a good first step, as this will take out travel time. You can then speak to your counsellor about your time commitments so you can arrange your sessions accordingly.
Alternatively, you may want to explore telephone or online counselling. This is when you have your counselling sessions over the phone, via Skype/video call or through email. This enables you to have counselling in the comfort of your own home at times to suit you.
The term compassion fatigue is used when caregivers begin to develop symptoms as an indirect response to the suffering they witness. Typically this occurs with professional carers as they see many different people in need, but it can happen to anyone in a caring role.
Sometimes it is very difficult to separate yourself from the patient's personal trauma. Internalising this stress can escalate, leading to depression and anxiety.
Counselling for carers with compassion fatigue can help you prioritise wellness and reduce stress. It offers an emotional release, something many carers benefit from.
Impacts of caring
Caring for someone you love is a selfless act that is undoubtedly appreciated by the person you're caring for. Despite this, being a carer can be difficult as it impacts several areas of your life. This is why carer support is so important. In this section, we look at some of the challenges you may face as a carer.
All of us experience stress at some point in our lives. Stress is the way our body deals with a perceived threat. For carers, stress often builds up when the demands on you exceed what you can cope with.
Overcoming stress often requires a multipronged approach. For carers, getting a break and respite is important. See if friends and family can offer more support, or look to see what respite services are available to you.
Talking about your feelings and gaining support is also important when it comes to managing stress. See if there are any support groups near you (or online), here you can talk to fellow carers about your experiences.
Looking after your physical health is also important. This means ensuring you are eating well, getting enough sleep and taking exercise. Having time to yourself to relax is also key.
Caring can put a great deal of strain on families and social groups. Some carers say they feel as if friends and family disappear once they begin caring. Relationships can suffer as a result of caring, leaving carers feeling isolated.
In some cases, your friends and family may think they are doing the right thing by staying away. Try letting them know that you need their support and don't be afraid to ask for help. Start off by asking for a small favour - like picking up some shopping. Tell them how much this means to you. This will hopefully encourage them to offer their help again in the future.
You may find that you simply don't have time to connect with your friends and family. Talk about this with them and perhaps explain any logistical elements to keep in mind when arranging a meeting. You could also utilise social networking sites, this enables you to keep in touch even if you can't physically be there.
Family counselling can help if you are struggling with conflict. Often, having someone there with an independent viewpoint to mediate the conversation helps.
When you care for someone you love, it is likely that your finances will be affected. As well as paying for external care services and assistive equipment, ill health and disability generally increase household bills. You may also find you are paying for hospital parking charges and other transportation costs.
Financially, you may be entitled to carer support from the government and Carers Allowance. We will explore the legal side of carer support further down the page.
Statistics show that those who care for others are twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers. This is because the pressures of being a carer can take its toll, affecting both physical and mental health.
Physically, problems like back pain are common. This is due to the physical exertion sometimes required when caring. Mentally, heightened stress levels and social isolation can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety.
The health impacts are often exacerbated by the fact that many carers struggle to find the time to attend medical appointments.
An important way you can maintain both physical and mental health when caring for others is by taking a break. Residential respite and domiciliary care are two of the most common options. The former offers residential care for the person you are looking after whilst you are away. The latter involves someone visiting your home and taking on your responsibilities for a certain time period such as overnight or even just for an afternoon.
If you are a carer who is looking to take a break, discuss your options with your care manager or social worker.
When caring ends
Caring roles may end if the person you're looking after passes away, or if alternate care is required (for example care homes).
The death of a loved one is always difficult, but it can hit you particularly hard if you were caring for the person. You may also find you are experiencing very mixed emotions. As well as grief, you may also feel a sense of relief or even happiness that the person's suffering is over. It's important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to react to bereavement, but if you are struggling with it, you may benefit from bereavement counselling.
When a great deal of your time and life revolves around another person, you may feel a little lost when your role as a carer is over. Rather than fearing this change, try to look at it as a new opportunity. An opportunity to think about what you want from life. Speaking to a coach or counsellor can be useful here.
Carer support - what are my rights?
In the past, carers didn't have legal rights to receive support. Now, however, the Care Act gives local authorities a responsibility to assess carer's need for support, if the carer looks to have such needs.
This allows more carers to have an assessment and gain access to support. Your local authorities will take yours and the person you're caring for needs into account to see what support you are eligible for.
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to claim carer's allowance. This is financial support you can use to help with your caring role.
You are advised to talk to your care manager or social worker for more details. There are also some online resources to find up-to-date information on carers rights such as:
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are currently no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a counsellor dealing with this area needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind, you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in the area for which you are seeking help.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing carers counsellors.
Some people also find it beneficial to join a local support group so they can share any challenges they experience with other carers.