'I just wanted to burst into tears': How stress and long hours cause crisis for carers
“It’s extremely difficult. I have moments where I just want to burst into tears. I feel as though my life is not mine.”
Colleen Bernard from Bilston, Wolverhampton knows only too well the stress, sadness, and loneliness that comes with being a carer.
The 61-year-old is the full-time carer of her 62-year-old brother Stephen Bernard, who is blind, partially deaf, and also suffers from autism.
She took on the role three years ago, after their mother fell into poor health – she died last year at the age of 82 and was still caring for her son up until her last days.
A former researcher, Colleen used to live in London and would spend her days working, doing yoga, going running, and meeting friends in the bustling capital. But since moving back to her home town Wolverhampton, she said her days are now spent washing, cleaning and caring for her elder brother.
“I do feel a loss of self,” said Colleen. “I think ‘where has Colleen gone? I don’t feel I have time for me.
“When I’m out I always have to look at the clock, and check how long I am. I can’t go swimming and to the gym, it has to be one or the other.”
She added: “When I was a child it was difficult to be a sibling to Stephen. But now my mum has passed I have the utmost respect for her.”
Colleen left home age 16 and lived in London for 40 years – so moving back to Bilston was a shock for her.
She added: “It’s very difficult. I have no friends here. I think there needs to be more support groups. I did want counselling but how can you talk to someone about how you’re feeling when they’ve never been a carer? It’s been extremely difficult. I feel a bit depleted and lost. I just feel I need to make time for me again.”
Colleen does regularly attend a support group organised by Wolverhampton Council at Central Library, which she said has been ‘a lifeline’. She added: “The staff there are so warm. They’re like a family. We need more of that really, more support."
Figures reveal stress of caring
This comes after figures revealed most carers looking after vulnerable adults in the Black Country and Staffordshire are tired, losing sleep and stressed.
Carers Trust says the latest NHS survey results show carers “in crisis”, with a significant increase in the number of those feeling depressed and physical strain.
Every two years, the health service asks thousands of adults in England about their unpaid roles supporting people over the age of 18 who are ill, disabled or elderly.
The latest survey, which covers 2018-19, attracted 50,800 responses.
A total of 1,100 of these responses were from people in the Black Country – with 425 in Staffordshire.
More than 75 per cent of these carers said that their responsibilities left them feeling tired, the most common health complaint.
Carers Trust, a charity which supports unpaid carers, urged the Government to help “cash-strapped” councils fund social care.
Chief executive Giles Meyer said: “Once again, we’re hearing from unpaid carers that they are in crisis – they’re not sleeping, they’re worrying about how they’ll make ends meet and some are having to care 100 hours a week or more for a relative.
“And these NHS Digital survey findings echo what we are hearing time and time again from carers supported by Carers Trust local services across England.”
“The reasons for this are well documented. Even when carers are able to get an assessment of their needs, far too few of them actually receive the services that will support them in return for all they do.
“Carers are also having to do more for the person they care for because there aren’t enough social care services for disabled people or older people."
Out of 330 respondents in Wolverhampton, 76 per cent reported that their caring role left them tired. And 61 per cent said caring gave them disturbed sleep, while 51 per cent said they felt stressed. Only 11 per cent of people said caring had no impact on their health.
In Dudley 350 carers responded, with 75 per cent saying their duties made them exhausted. Only 9.5 per cent said caring did not impact their health at all.
Over in Sandwell, 80 per cent of 220 carers who took the survey admitted they were tired, while 62 per cent said they were stressed. Nearly seven in 10 also said they experienced poor sleep. And in Walsall, 87 per cent of 200 respondents said they were tired, with only a tiny three per cent saying caring had no impact on their health.
Elsewhere in Staffordshire, it was 76 per cent that said their responsibilities that left them feeling shattered. Only 11 per cent said caring had no impact on their health.
A spokeswoman for the department of health and social care said: “Our cross-government Carers Action Plan sets out commitments to improve their lives, and through the Long Term Plan the NHS is working to better identify and support carers in England.
“Our forthcoming green paper will also look at long-term sustainable solutions for the social care system.”
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