Emotional support for carers
By Rosalind Kent
It’s well-known that financial worries can be a major problem for carers, but the emotional impact that a caring role can have is often overlooked. When you combine caring for someone with the task of looking for flexible work, the stresses can pile up and affect your own wellbeing. Sometimes you just need some extra help, so here are some ideas on getting emotional support for carers.
Recognising the signs
Stress can creep up on you, and if not kept in check, can have a big impact on your health. The constant demands of a caring role, which is often a 24/7 one, can be difficult to handle alone. If you are lucky enough to have other family members or friends around you, you may be able to ask them for practical help and emotional support, but unfortunately this is not the case for everyone.
It goes without saying that, if you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, the first port of call should be your GP. They should be able to discuss the different treatments options with you, and offer medication or a talking therapy or counselling.
But there are steps you can take before a visit to the GP; if you can recognise the signs of stress, you can take action. Struggling along with your caring role alone is not the answer. Seeking out help and advice is crucial at an early stage to stop things spiralling out of control.
Getting proper support
The value of emotional support, when you are facing a difficult time, is often underestimated. People want practical help and solutions to problems, and often think that ‘just talking about it’ won’t make any difference. Many also think that, as they have friends and family to talk to, engaging with other people is a waste of time.
However, all the evidence suggests that emotional support from other people in your position, or from professionals who understand your circumstances and won’t judge you, can be incredibly helpful.
The first thing to do is contact your local carers’ support charity – you can find out if there is one in your area via the Carers Trust website. These organisations are a fantastic source of advice, information and services – and can also offer emotional support. It is given either on a one-to-one basis, with a trained Carers Support Adviser visiting you at home, or via organised support groups.
Many of these organisations also offer courses and therapies that you can access, such as carer wellbeing days (including massage, mindfulness sessions and tips for coping with stress), positive thinking courses, coping with caring courses and peer support (where you can speak to other carers in the same position).
Taking regular breaks
You might think that it’s impossible to take a break from your caring role. However, having some occasional time off is crucial for your own mental wellbeing, and should be supported by the services in your local area.
Your local council will have a social care department which you can contact to find out about respite options. The first step is to ask them to do a Carers Assessment for you, so you can identify your particular needs. You can then discuss possibilities for respite, such as a temporary care home placement, for a one-off break, or a regular day centre place.
A day centre place can give your relative a change of scene and give you a day or two a week to yourself. You can arrange this via social services or by contacting the day centre direct (there will be a list of those available on your local council website). Some are council-run, and some are run by charities; for example, the Alzheimer’s Society or Mind run some day centres for people with dementia, as may other illness-specific charities in your area.
Carers’ charities offer different services in different areas, depending on funding, so it’s worth investigating what’s on offer locally. For example, I found a charity in Bromley which runs a respite service, at a greatly reduced cost to that offered by the council. They also offer a low-priced sitting service, which involves someone coming to sit with your relative so you can go out and enjoy some time to yourself.
Some charities also run a befriending service, which is usually free, and involves a volunteer popping in for a chat with your loved one, to give you peace of mind if you are out and about.
Looking after yourself will help you look after others
Remember, your emotional wellbeing is just as important as everyone else’s. If you are stressed and become ill, you will not be able to carry on caring, so it’s important to take regular breaks and get all the support you can. Give yourself permission to look after yourself – not just the person you are caring for.