Northern Ireland

66% of unpaid carers suffer in mental ill-health ‘endemic’

The figures were revealed in a YouGov poll commissioned to mark the beginning of this year’s Carers Week

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Two thirds of unpaid carers in Northern Ireland suffer in mental ill-health (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Campaigners are warning mental health challenges have become ‘endemic’ among Northern Ireland’s unpaid carers.

A recent poll revealed two-thirds of people who provide unpaid care for sick or disabled friends and family have suffered mental ill-health because of their caring role.

A quarter say it had had a very negative impact on their mental health and 41% saying it had a slightly negative impact.

Deborah McAllister, who lives in Larne, has been an unpaid carer for over 15 years.

She cares for her mum, who has dementia, and her daughter, who has complex needs.

“I was diagnosed with over-functioning anxiety, PTSD and compassion fatigue as a direct result of my unpaid caring role,” she said.

“I actually had to retire from my career as a nurse because of ill-health.

“I love my mum and daughter, but caring has taken such a toll. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted all of the time.

“It’s very difficult to ever improve your mental health when you’re caring, because there are never any breaks. I also get no financial support for my caring role and having to live on a little pension only adds to the anxiety.

“Many of my friends are caring for loved ones and they are all sick too. You’re surrounded by friends with poor mental health. They’re the only people who really understand what it is like.”

There are over 220,000 people currently providing unpaid care for sick or disabled family members and friends.

Angela Phillips, Senior Policy Officer at Carers NI, said many of them are waiting months or years for access to support and the opportunity for a break.

She explained: “Social care and respite provision across health trusts is just not meeting demand and the pressure that puts on carers is leaving them mentally worn out and in the grips of anxiety, stress and depression every day.

“In the worst cases, carers are reporting thoughts about self-harm and suicide, and that should be serving as a screaming wakeup call that the health system isn’t doing enough.

“This year’s Carers Week needs to be about delivering ring-fenced funding for the breaks and other services carers need to protect their mental health, not empty words and photo opportunities.”

Two thirds of unpaid carers in NI suffered mental ill health
Two thirds of unpaid carers in NI suffered mental ill health

The poll also found that close to half (44%) of current or former carers in Northern Ireland have suffered negative impacts on their physical health. Over 40% (47%) said caring had negatively impacted their finances and savings, while 48% said their job and ability to go to work had been negatively affected.

Campaigners called on the Department of Health to fund the regular breaks and other support services carers need to better protect their mental wellbeing.