In a recent news article it has been suggested by doctors that carers should be routinely screened for signs of depression by their GP to ensure that their health needs are not neglected.

It has been estimated by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) that one in every twenty patients registered with a GP is providing unpaid care to a relative.  It is a very stressful living environment and statistics reveal that about 40% of carers are thought to be at risk of depression or stress themselves because of their caring role.  Stress and depression can cause ill health for the carer which can be a disaster for the rest of the family.

It is generally expected that family members will care for each other should one of them become unwell at any time.  Often, the ill health of a loved one is a sudden event which is totally unexpected and the stress and shock of the illness can cause major disruption to the family unit, lifestyle and choices. 

Often carers take over the role of the hospital staff once their family member has been discharged home from hospital and the family unit’s lifestyle changes dramatically.  This change can be overwhelming from the outset.

Family members are usually inexperienced at caring but they feel under pressure to care for their relative.  Once the family member has been discharged home from hospital the enormity of such a role becomes apparent and it is important that a support system is in place to assist with the transitional period.  GPs should be notified as soon as the family member has been discharged from hospital so that any other issues can be identified at an early stage and extra support systems can be put in place if necessary ie help with grocery shopping, collecting prescriptions/medication etc.

Careers can become isolated and depressed without becoming aware of the fact that they are themselves under enormous pressure to take over from where the medical and nursing staff left off.  Other issues relate to running the family home and ensuring that life goes on for all other members of the family.  The carers are often forgotten and depression can be guised as exhaustion and agitation.  Sometimes the more the carer does for the ill family member, the more that is expected of them. 

Statistically about 40% of carers are at risk of depression or stress because of their role and it is estimated that in theUKthere are approximately 7 million people who provide unpaid care to a sick disabled child or an adult who could not otherwise live independently. 

The Royal College of General Practitioners has prepared a list for the Clinical Commissioning Groups (i.e. groups of GPs that plan local care) of measures to ensure that carers’ needs are taken into account and these include the following:-

  • Improved GP access by allocating routine appointments and vaccinations at convenient times for carers 
  • Appoint a carers’ champion in all GP surgeries
  • Maintain a carers’ register within the GP practice
  • Carry out audits to measure improvements in carer support”

It is quite common for carers to carry on regardless and neglect their own health and well being for that of their disabled or sick relative. It is seen as a weakness to admit that they are unable to cope.

Helena Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK has been quoted as saying that “Caring full time for a family member could leave people cut off from the outside world.  This isolation, alongside the pressures, fears and anxieties of supporting an ill or disabled love one, can take a serious toll on a carer’s mental health”.

It is essential that carers are provided with support and medical advice and attention when it is needed. 

Carers play an essential role in society and statistically save the public purse £119 billion per year in care costs by providing the care free of charge to their loved ones.  It has been suggested that even more money could be saved if carers are routinely monitored and their health needs assessed on a regular basis.  It is often difficult for carers to find time to go to see their GP and often there are feelings of guilt when admitting that caring for their loved one has caused them to suffer depression.  However, this is often as a result of the carer neglecting their own health needs and taking on too much responsibility.

Statistically it has been shown that 42% of carers have had a breakdown in a relationship with a family member, 34% of carers have missed out on the chance of promotion, 60% have had a reduction in their income as a result of caring and 72% have had to reduce the amount of exercise that they take due to the responsibilities of caring for their loved one. The enormity of the role of the career can be overlooked.

This week is the launch of Carers Week 10 – 16 June 2013, which is aUKwide annual awareness campaign.  The aim of Carers Week is to improve the lives of carers and the lives of people that they care for.  Carers Week does this by:

  • Raising the profile of the role of caring in the national, regional and local media and encouraging groups and organisations to take part and organise events and activities.
  • Helping the public identify themselves as carers and assess support, advice and information that they need.
  • Celebrating and recognise the contribution the UK’s 6.5 million carers make to the people they care for and their communities.
  • Highlighting the challenges of caring and campaigning for sustainable funding for services and support for carers and the people they care for”.

The theme this year for Carers Week is “Prepared to Care?” and it will focus on how the United Kingdom’s current carer population is coping and how effectively the UK Government is supporting the growing numbers of carers and whether the wider population is prepared for future caring responsibilities.

Carers Week 2013 is being supported in partnership of national charities such as Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, MacMillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’sUK.  It is also supported by Independent Age, the Stroke Association and Care Well.  The campaign is being sponsored by Sainsbury’s supermarkets and Skills for Care.

To register for Carers Week please visit http://www.carersweek.org/take-part/register