“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” (1) A very noble statement, but what about those who care and support such citizens, and do so with no, or very little financial gain?
In Scotland, unpaid care is carried out by an estimated 759,000 carers over the age of 16 and 29,000 young carers (under age of 16). (2) This sometimes-invisible force of individuals makes up the third part of the care and treatment triangle for many people who require health and social care services, the other two parts being the person needing the care and treatment and the paid staff providing it. However, how many of us stop to think about the impact this unpaid caring role can have on the health and wellbeing of such carers?
Census figures show that 6 per cent of carers surveyed stated they had mental health problems, compared to 4 per cent of people who are not carers. Indeed, the Scottish Government stated: “Unpaid caring is a significant predictor of poor mental wellbeing and the presence of possible psychiatric disorder”. (3)
Coping is Difficult, but I Feel Proud; Perspectives on Mental Health and Young Carers, (4) research carried out by Scotland’s Children and Young Peoples Commissioner, found that young carers with the highest caring responsibilities tend to report more negative health effects, are generally less happy, report more stress-related issues and are more likely to report sleep difficulties.
Investing in carer health and wellbeing isn’t just nice to have in a strategy or piece of legislation; it makes economic sense. It is estimated that the value of care provided in Scotland by unpaid carers is £10,347,400,000 per year. Imagine what would happen if even a fraction of carers became so ill they couldn’t carry on! It is vital that carers receive the support they require so they can have a life of their own. Many carers don’t want to stop caring but that does not mean this should be at the expense of their health. Services need to reciprocate by identifying and signposting carers to relevant support organisations, such as local carer services, so that the right support is provided at the right time and in the right manner for carers.
At a time when resources are being stretched, more and more reliance is being placed on families and carers. As a society we owe this army of unpaid carers of all ages the very basics of citizenship; the right to as healthy a life as possible.
For more information on health and wellbeing resources for carers, please email Carers Trust Scotland or call 0300 772 7701.
This feature is by Karen Martin, Mental Health Development Coordinator at Carers Trust Scotland.
1) Pearl Buck,The Good Earth, 1932 (although often misquoted as from Mahatma Gandhi).
2) Carers Trust Scotland.
3) Scottish Government.
4) Glenys Watt, Onyema Ibe and Ella Edginton (Blake Stevenson), and Dr Ross Whitehead (HBSC Research Fellow, University of St Andrews), 2017.