How to make carers more visible
Being an unpaid carer can be challenging and overwhelming. It’s vital that we share their stories, and make sure they're represented and supported.
Tony Collins-Moore is Carers Wellbeing Academy Manager at Carers Centre Tower Hamlets. The charity provides services for unpaid carers in the East London borough.
I’m a carer to my parents. To an extent, I can use my professional Independent Advocacy skills and nearly forty years of working in health and social care to help me on a practical day-to-day level. But on some occasions it doesn’t work. You can have professional experience but that doesn’t make caring any easier. You can still feel overwhelmed, need emotional support and have a shoulder to cry on.
An unpaid carer is a person of any age who provides unpaid help and support to partner, child, parent, relative, friend or neighbour who cannot manage without the carer’s help.
I realised I was becoming a carer and eventually a full-time carer, because I’d worked with unpaid carers for over 12 years, so I saw it coming as they say. I also realised that recognising you’re a carer can be quite tricky. Most carers I come into contact with have to be told, informed, and advised that they are a carer. Some realise they have been a child carer and have continued their caring role into adulthood.
Having a range of positive images that includes community group representation, like the latest image library collection, would definitely have helped me both personally and professionally. During Carers Week when the aim was to make carers more visible, I was lucky enough to work with a photographer from Ageing Better to produce a series of pictures that reflect carers more positively.
What carers have difficulty with is that there are services out in the community designed to support them in their caring role. Quite often at the Carers Centre, we have a newly registered carer who thinks we want to know about their cared for and is taken aback when we state, ‘we want to hear about you’.
The next step carers often overlook is how to look after themselves and remembering that self-care should not make you feel guilty. Maintaining good emotional and physical wellbeing enables carers to be better carers, because much needed time and respite has been taken for themselves. My role at the Carers Centre is to look at the impact of caring on a carer/person and develop a range of wellbeing activities that allow carers to have counselling, life coaching, get involved in peer support group activities, take up a creative pursuit and engage in mindfulness activities. I like to do this by co-producing the timetable with carers; it just makes sense to have as much lived experience and input, so that the services are what carers want.
All these activities as well as learning about specific conditions, first aid, manual handling can give a carer a life outside of caring. I often encourage carers to take back control of their lives, take up a further education course, join a social group, be part of a physical activity group with other carers.
It can be hard for carers to find the time to take part, but the rewards are considerable when a carer understands their role better, has developed self-care skills for their emotional wellbeing, feels energised after a massage or taken part in a retreat. It just propels the carers to manage for longer.
I always say we have to invest in carers and that includes wellbeing, so that the huge numbers up and down the country can continue to save us £193 billion a year, be thought of as the second NHS and be the amazing community they are.
So, summing up, I encourage carers to look after their much-required wellbeing, get support and tap into a service that can help carers. These are just some of the ways carers can age better and enjoy life, as connection with others can pay in dividends. I also encourage carer services to use the age-positive image library for promotion, activities. Having images that feel real and reflect modern people will only help your service reach carers, who do not recognise they are a carer.
Tony writes a weekly blog for carers in Tower Hamlets on the Carers Centre website.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the Centre for Ageing Better.