12th-18th June is Carer's Week, when we think about the 6.5 million people (1 in 9) in the UK who are caring for relatives or friends on an unpaid basis because they are elderly, disabled or facing difficult life challenges.
Who cares for the carer?
3 million of these people also have paid jobs to combine with their caring roles, and many forego full time work, promotions, or even have to stop working altogether to care for those in need.
There are many stresses to consider, and according to research by Building Carer Friendly Communities, over a third of those asked say their employer does not understand their caring work, to not have policies to cover carers, and that they don't feel comfortable talking to their employer about their caring responsibilities. 60% of carers have either reduced their hours or given up their paid jobs to care. 42% say that they struggle financially.
Many feel isolated, as they are unable to lead a fulfilling social life and have little leisure time. Carers report that they would welcome the opportunity to meet with other carers who understand their plight, but the constraints of caring prevent them from doing so. Many lose friendships because of a lack of shared experience and opportunity to go out. Some even start to face their own mental health problems because of overwork and isolation.
So what can employers do to help carers?
- Introduce and promote flexible working where possible. In most roles, this is workable provided core hours are completed
- Introduce some paid leave for carers to attend medical appointments or emergencies
- Set up and encourage carers to join a Carer's Staff Network for support and sharing of experiences
- Ensure that all carers are aware of their rights to request flexible working and time off for emergencies
- Ensure that a caring and supportive culture is adopted by line managers and co-workers
- Encourage carers to share their stories with colleagues, leading to a more collaborative and understanding co-worker culture, preventing resentment
- Provide mental health awareness training for carers and other staff facing stress in or outside work
This will result in a more loyal and collaborative workforce and increased productivity, but could also reduce absence for stress and depression.
Carers also have a responsibility to themselves and to those they care for, to ensure they keep physically and mentally well. As well as eating healthily, exercising regularly and reducing intake of drugs such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, carers should also ensure they find time to reduce their stress levels. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and relaxation techniques can all be extremely beneficial and can be practiced at home. Cultivating friendships with other carers can help to reduce the stress of the burden of care.
The same study also suggests that many carers are not currently doing this. Half report a deterioration of their mental health since starting their role as carer and have left a problem to go untreated. Over a third have physically injured themselves, and the same number only ask for help in an emergency.
When it all becomes too much, counselling can benefit people by helping them to identify their core issues and to support them in taking positive steps to improve their circumstances. This might include giving them the confidence and skills to speak to their employer about their needs, or to seek help from others.
If you are a carer and need to speak to a qualified professional in confidence, call our nearest reception:
Cambridge 01223 233047 Peterborough 01733 553166
Both face to face and telephone counselling is available, depending on your preference
To find out more about Carer's Week, visit http://www.carersuk.org/?gclid=CPq6z-_RmM0CFQo6GwodWyADkw