National Carers Week is about recognising and celebrating the outstanding contribution unpaid carers make to our nation.
There are over 2.7 million family and friend carers in Australia providing 36 million hours of care and support every week to a family member or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail. The replacement value of that unpaid care is $1.1 billion per week.
Anyone at any time can become a carer. National Carers Week is an opportunity to educate and raise awareness among all Australians about the diversity of carers and their caring roles. This year, National Carers Week will run from Sunday 13 to Saturday 19 October 2019.
Who are carers?
A carer is any individual who provides care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail.
Carers come from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds and age groups. For many, caring is a 24 hour-a-day job with emotional, physical and financial impacts that can also affect their participation in employment, education and community activities. Across NSW, there are approximately 904,400 carers, comprising individuals as young as eight years of age through to the very elderly.
Carers exist in all communities, including Aboriginal communities, those of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, LGBTI communities, and throughout metropolitan, regional, rural and remote NSW.
Many people in caring roles do not identify as carers and as such are often not linked to services and supports that can assist them. These individuals are often referred to as ‘hidden carers’.
How do people become carers?
People become carers in different ways. Sometimes it happens gradually - helping out more and more as a person's health and independence deteriorates over time. It may also happen very suddenly, after a health crisis (like a stroke or heart attack) or an accident.
It's not uncommon for carers to feel that they don't have any choice in their caring role. Even in large families the responsibility of providing care often falls to one person rather than being shared. In other situations, there may be only one person to take on the caring role. Many carers feel that caring is what they should do.
What do carers do?
Every situation is different. Some carers provide 24 hour nursing to a family member with high care needs. They help with daily needs and activities like feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, lifting and moving and administering medications.
Other carers support people who are fairly independent, but may need someone to keep an eye on them, or help them with tasks like banking, transport, shopping and housework. Most carers give comfort, encouragement and reassurance to the person they care for, oversee their health and well-being, monitor their safety and help them stay as independent as possible. Carers help the person they care for to have a good quality of life.
Often the extent of the support provided by carers isn't obvious to those around them. Even family and friends can underestimate the amount of time and energy spent caring, particularly when the kinds of assistance given aren't physical.
The rewards of caring
People who care for a family member or friend say there are many rewards:
The opportunity for personal growth and the development of new skills
Proving to yourself that you can meet new challenges
The satisfaction of knowing you have you have helped someone who needs you and that you have done the best you could to improve their quality of life
Strengthening the relationship with the person you care for and knowing how much they appreciate your help
Receiving the acknowledgement of your family and friends
The challenges of caring
Caring can be very demanding and often restricts the lives of carers and their families. Carers are often left to bear too much responsibility for the person they care for, without enough support. Carers NSW advocates for practical reforms that will help protect carers from the problems too often associated with caring.
Approximately 40%1 of primary carers are on a low income and many find it hard to cover living expenses, save money or build up superannuation
The extra costs of caring can be enormous. Carers and their families often have to find money for extra expenses like heating and laundry, medicines, disability aids, health care and transport.
Health and well-being
Caring can be emotionally taxing and physically draining. Carers have the lowest wellbeing of any large group measured by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.
Carers often ignore their own health and are 40 per cent more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition. Some health problems, like back problems, anxiety and depression, can be directly linked to caring.
Many carers are chronically tired and desperately need to refresh with just one night of unbroken sleep, a day off or an extended period with no caring responsibilities.
Social isolation and relationships
Many carers feel isolated, missing the social opportunities associated with work, recreation and leisure activities.
The demands of caring can leave little time for other family members or friends.
Carers often have to deal with strong emotions, like anger, guilt, grief and distress that can spill into other relationships and cause conflict and frustration.
Many carers miss out on important life opportunities, particularly for paid work, a career and education.
Caring can take the freedom and spontaneity out of life.
Help and Assistance
Carers NSW can help if you provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependencies, chronic condition, terminal illness, or who is frail.
You do not need to live with the person you care for
You do not need to be the main source of care and support
You do not have to provide care every day, or over many years
You do not have to receive the Carer Payment or Carer Allowance from Centrelink
Call the Carers NSW Carer Line on 1800 242 636 to find out more about the support available. The Carers NSW Carer Line is available from 9.00am – 5.00, Monday to Friday and is a free service if calling from a landline.
To find out more about Carers Week visit the Carers Australia website here
To find out more about Carers NSW and how they can help visit their website here