As our lives change and people around us become older, ill or disabled, we can find ourselves asking ourselves “Am I a carer?” I have worked with people who are looking after others in my career as an advice worker in the community and online helping them with issues such as welfare benefits and access to NHS funded nursing care. It is interesting that so few people are happy to define themselves as carers. It might be that we don’t like labels or that the term is unfamiliar to us. I think perhaps it is because carers are so used to looking after other people that anything that might mean they can get some support or suggests in any way they are special does not sit with them comfortably.
Am I a carer?
A carer is someone of any age who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help due to illness, disability, mental ill health or a substance misuse problem. You may become a carer whilst you are still a young child or much later in life including when you are elderly yourself. You may be related to the person you care for or they may be a friend or neighbour. Be aware that as soon as you can accept or live with the term “carer” about yourself, there is support available to you which can assist not only you but those you love too.
Individuals have diverse care needs so there are a range of things that you may do for someone which identify you as a carer. You may spend a lot of time listening and talking to someone who is in emotional distress. You may be doing practical tasks in the home such as cleaning, cooking and laundry. You may go shopping for someone who cannot manage to do so or go to get their medicines. The person you help may need you to feed them, help them to the toilet or with keeping clean. Sometimes a person can only move around the home or get out and about if someone helps them to do so.
Importance of identifying yourself as a carer
Once you can identify yourself as a carer, there is a clear path for you to seek support for yourself as well as the person you are helping. You local authority can do assessments to work out how they can best help you. It is likely you have a local carer support agency too which is a great port of call to reduce isolation, access information and sometimes just to have some fun. It is OK to have fun when you are looking after someone. In fact, I would argue it is essential you do something for yourself so that you stay mentally well. If you think that is selfish, remember that if you go under, the person you look after will suffer. You should also know that it is always a sign of stength not weakness to ask for help.
Are you a carer? What do you think about the term?