Carers UK has released new research – State of Caring Health Report – as part of the State of Caring research series which finds that a widespread lack of support and recognition from health and care services is severely damaging unpaid carers’ mental health.
The report highlights how people caring round the clock for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives do not have adequate support from statutory services that are in place to help them – leaving many with thoughts of hopelessness, fear, and dread, and urgently in need of support.
Although we know there is good practice and many professionals are working hard to support unpaid carers, the health and care system is under strain and doesn’t provide the help or recognition that carers need it to.
Based on findings from the State of Caring 2023 survey, responded to by over 11,000 carers, the research shows that:
- More than a quarter (27%) of unpaid carers have bad or very bad mental health, rising to 31% of those caring for more than 50 hours a week, or for over 10 years.
- 84% of carers whose mental health is bad or very bad have continuous low mood, 82% have feelings of hopelessness, and 71% regularly feel tearful.
- 68% of carers with bad or very bad mental health are living with a sense of fear or dread.
- More than three quarters of all carers (79%) feel stressed or anxious, half (49%) feel depressed and half (50%) feel lonely.
- 65% of carers agreed that the increase in the cost of living was having a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health.
- Despite feeling they are at breaking point, nearly three quarters (73%) of carers with bad or very bad mental health are continuing to provide care.
- Most worryingly, over a third (36%) of those who reported their mental health as bad or very bad said they have had thoughts related to self-harm or suicide.
Not being able to access the support they need is taking its toll on unpaid carers, many of whom are worn out and exhausted. Far too many carers are having to wait long periods for health treatment – or putting it off because of the demands of their caring role; are unable to rely on fragmented social care services to support with caring, and are struggling financially because they cannot earn a higher income.
Emphasising the difficulties that thousands of carers are facing, one carer told us:
I’m feeling very low and drained mentally and physically. I can’t let the person I care for see that so have to put on a happy face but I’m definitely struggling and worry about what will happen to the person I care for if I break.
Another carer told us about the difficulties they faced getting the right support:
I’ve contacted helplines, spoken with my doctor and tried to find help online. The waiting list for counselling is ridiculous and only provides 6 hourly sessions. How can six hours help long term? Doctors want to prescribe antidepressants and advise self-care, but don’t help you to get it.
It’s clear that unpaid carers desperately need to be recognised and supported with their caring roles. Working with local authorities, the Government and NHS England must urgently drive a programme of quicker and more targeted interventions to prevent poor mental health amongst carers. That’s why Carers UK is urging the Government to provide the necessary investment in the NHS and social care so that unpaid carers can take care of their physical and mental health. We are also calling on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to undertake an inquiry into unpaid carers’ ability to access health services in England.