I often see or hear people questioning whether they can call themselves a carer and if they’re allowed to access ‘real’ carers’ services.
Since the Carers Together project started I’ve received more than a hundred applications from people who would like support from an online mentor. Several have questioned if this is the right project for them, because they’re not sure if the type of caring they’re doing is serious enough or if it even falls under the category of caring. It’s a sentiment that is also frequently expressed on the new members section of the Carers UK forum: people precede their posts with “I don’t know if I can be classed as a carer”; “I was shocked to discover I was a carer”; “I’m not sure I should be posting here…”
Parents of children with disabilities have told me that they’ve always identified themselves as parents first and carers second, which means they’ve taken longer to access services marketed towards carers. Likewise, when speaking to partners and relatives affected by somebody else’s drug or alcohol use I’ve found that this too is a group who don’t immediately identify themselves as carers despite often providing physical, mental and financial support.
At Carers Together, I’ve received many enquiries from people caring for loved ones with mental health difficulties; again, this is a group of carers who can often feel the label doesn’t apply to them, as they believe (or have been told) that providing emotional support isn’t as valid as giving physical support or personal care.
These examples suggest that people in supportive roles who don’t identify themselves as carers could be missing out on vital services and support, and as a result will continue to struggle with the all-too-common isolation that carers experience. It’s therefore been really interesting to look through all the applications I’ve received from people requesting support and see such a wide range of caring backgrounds.
Not only are people caring for partners, children or parents but also other family members or friends, and a few are also caring for more than one person. The range of conditions are also extremely varied: they include cancer, autism, dementia, personality disorders, ME/CFS, pain conditions, Down’s syndrome, alcohol misuse, depression, arthritis, MS, learning difficulties, schizophrenia and many many more.
I now hope that previous carers with experience of the above - and more! – will acknowledge that they were ‘real carers’ and consider volunteering with us. If you think you could support others who are in a similar situation, we’d love to hear from you. Take a look here.