Calls for better support for unpaid carers as half report feeling depressed

Quicker and better support is needed to prevent poor mental health among carers, a charity has said as it pointed to large-scale research suggesting that more than three-quarters felt stressed or anxious, while half were depressed.

Carers UK received a total of 10,751 responses from unpaid carers, revealing the stresses they were under and the impact on their mental health.

Many often felt unseen, undervalued and forgotten by support services, the charity’s chief executive Helen Walker said.

The latest research comes after a report by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission, published last month, described how “completely overwhelmed” family carers were trying to fill gaps in care in a system under severe strain.

Charities have long been calling for more support for family carers, with research earlier this year by national disability charity Sense finding many people looking after loved ones were left exhausted or burnt out with little opportunity to rest and recuperate.

This latest online survey for Carers UK, which took place this summer, showed that more than a quarter (27%) said they were in poor mental health, with the percentage rising to 31% among those who were caring for more than 50 hours a week, or over a period of 10 years.

A majority said they had continuous low mood (84%), feelings of hopelessness (82%), and regularly felt tearful (71%).

The charity said a lack of support meant some carers were putting off their own health treatments because of the demands of their caring role, felt unable to rely on “fragmented” social care services for support and were struggling financially because they could not earn a higher income while caring.

More than three-quarters (79%) said they felt stressed or anxious, while around half felt depressed and half felt lonely.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of carers agreed that the increase in the cost of living was having a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health, the charity said.

Ms Walker (pictured) said: “Unpaid carers make an enormous contribution to society, but far too regularly feel unseen, undervalued and completely forgotten by services that are supposed to be there to support them.

“The unrelenting pressure of not being able to take breaks from caring, being able to prioritise their own health or earn enough money to make ends meet is causing many to hit rock bottom.

“Unpaid carers desperately need to be recognised and supported with their caring roles. Working with local authorities, the Government and NHS England must drive a programme of quicker and more targeted interventions to prevent poor mental health amongst carers.”

The Local Government Association said wider issues within adult social care services must be tackled and said further investment was badly needed.

David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community well-being board, said: “This research is incredibly concerning. Unpaid carers provide vital support for thousands of people every day, which councils fully recognise and want to help in any way they can.

“If we are to achieve our aspirations for all unpaid carers, who are needed in increasing numbers to address the rise in those needing care, and ensure caring doesn’t impact on a carer’s health and well-being, we must tackle wider issues within adult social care services.

“Councils have worked hard to try and reduce costs but immediate investment is needed in the Autumn Statement to address unmet and under-met need and ensure timely access to social care for all who need it.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Unpaid carers play a vital role and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

“We know how important breaks and respite are for unpaid carers and this year, £327 million from the Better Care Fund has been earmarked to provide short breaks and respite services, along with our recently announced £42.6 million fund for innovative local projects, many of which will support unpaid carers.”

The funding was part of money already announced in April under the Government’s Next Steps To Put People At The Heart Of Care publication, which followed the 2021 People At The Heart Of Care White Paper.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Carers UK.