More men than you might expect are caring for their loved ones - and they are often older men.
Overall, 42% of carers are men. ONS figures estimate that 15% of men over 65 are acting as carers, compared to 13% of women in the same age group. There are also more men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 performing caring roles.
Caring can be exhausting and take its toll on relationships, family life and carers' own health. Clearly, both women and men need support. But research shows that male carers are often more isolated and unwilling to ask for help. Their tendency is to struggle on stoically until they reach crisis point. So why aren’t more men seeking support?
Only 19% of those benefiting from our Carers Together support project are men. This isn’t a problem limited to Carers Together, as most emotional support that is supposed to serve both genders is more often used by women.
Perhaps men are coping – just taking the burden on their big manly shoulders. That’s the stereotype men would like to be true. How do we know it isn’t? The suicide rate for men is three times that for women and men outnumber women in admissions to psychiatric hospitals.
The traditional male role is totally challenged by becoming a carer. Identity, status, capacity to provide for others are all inhibited in an extreme way.
If you don’t tell men that it’s normal to feel pressured by life and suggest to them it’s ordinary to ask for help, they never admit to struggling. All too often their natural tendency is to deal with difficult situations themselves and to avoid emotionally sensitive conversations. But the stereotype of men’s capacity to cope is only true in as much as it prevents them from asking for support.
In all support services attracting men is seen as a big challenge. But a trip to the gents will tell you what are thought to be important issues in a man’s world. Standing at the urinal you can see adverts addressing issues of impotence, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer and career progression. Emotional fatigue doesn’t feature. There seems to be a collusion of indifference to men’s lack of uptake of support services. But the myth of manly shoulders taking the burden of whatever is placed upon them can have a devastating impact.
So if you know a male carer who is struggling but not asking for support, please send him our way. Carers Together not only offers face-to-face support from a volunteer mentor, but also online mentoring which is designed to fit in with carers’ lifestyles – and their own particular needs.
You can read more about Carers Together, the project we run with Carers UK to support carers, here.