Read on for information about being a carer for a friend or family member, advice for how to access further support, and tips for looking after your own wellbeing.
A carer is someone who cares unpaid for a family member or friend, who may not be able to cope with day to day life without support (e.g. due to an illness, physical disability, or mental health condition). Anyone can be a carer and it’s important that carers are also supported, as the responsibility of being a carer can be a strain mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Not every carer recognises that they are a carer, because looking after someone is what you do as a partner, spouse, parent, relative, or even a friend. It is good to recognise the role, so you can understand how this may be affecting you and get the support you need.
Helping someone with their needs can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be very isolating, confusing, tiring, and may conflict with your own needs.
Often it can feel as if we have no choice but to help the person – because how else would they cope? This responsibility makes it even more vital for us to look after ourselves because, if we become unwell, then we can’t provide the support that our cared for person needs.
Looking after our own wellbeing helps to ensure that we, and the cared for person, are safe and able to cope with day-to-day life as best as possible.
Remember: your feelings are valid and your wellbeing is just as important as anyone else's.
For those of us who are carers, it is common to experience a loss of our sense of ‘self’ while taking on the responsibility for someone else’s care. We often have to re-prioritise, resulting in de-prioritising doing things for ourselves. We may find that we have to reduce our working hours, or stop working altogether to provide appropriate levels of support.
There is a lot of stress involved with being a carer, and it can reduce the time you have for interacting with others. This can lead to high levels of Stress or low mood, and some may experience Depression or Anxiety. Caring for someone can also feel isolating, especially if you are unable to have a break from being a carer. If you are experiencing loneliness and you are struggling to cope with this, click here for further advice and support.
It can be frightening to witness and care for someone with an illness, disability, or mental health condition, and this can have a significant impact on our wellbeing. You may be fearful of what could happen to the person you care for if anything happened to you, or you may be concerned for your own safety as a result of your caring responsibilities.
Even if you are helping someone else, it's OK to ask for help for yourself. You can find services offering a wide range of support by scrolling down, or by clicking here.
If you need urgent support, click Get Help Now at the top of this page.
It can be difficult to ask for help, especially when we are responsible for someone else's care. Learn about how to recognise if you may need some support, and find ways to access relevant services.
Being a carer can involve a range of emotions and experiences, and this will vary from person to person. Some of us may feel that our caring responsibilities are manageable alongside our own life, while others may need some support with this.
Take a look at these statements and tick any that you can relate to:
According to figures released by Carers UK, every day there are 6,000 people who take on caring responsibilities, and it is expected that by the year 2037 there will be nine million carers in the country. If you are unsure about what support you can access as a carer, there are many organisations that can help:
Citizens Advice Bureau can provide you with information about benefits, and other financial support, that you may be entitled to depending on your current situation. For example, you may be entitled to the Carer’s Allowance (if you care for someone for 35 hours a week or more), get help paying for prescriptions or other healthcare costs, or receive discounts on your council tax or household bills. You can find more information here.
Carers Trust and other organisations can offer mental health support for carers, as well as practical advice about strategies or equipment that may be useful for carers. Some can also offer wellbeing grants to help support your personal mental wellbeing – find out more here.
Independent Lives is a user-led charity that matches carers with a network of people qualified to support them. Their wide range of support includes providing direct support for the cared for person, respite time for the carer, as well as undertaking household tasks to reduce the responsibility for carers and their cared for people. They also support carers going through the employment process, and receiving government support for payments for the assistants. For more details, click here.
Phone: 0300 028 8888
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am-5pm (Wednesday 9am-7pm) and Saturday 10am-12pm
Phone: 0800 808 7777
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am-6pm
Phone: 01323 738390
Emergency support: 0345 60 80 191 (8am-8pm, 7 days a week including bank holidays)
Text: 07860 077300
You can find more services offering a wide range of support in your local area here.
Read on for tips and advice for looking after your own mental health and emotional wellbeing, alongside your role as a carer.
Being a carer often involves a lot of time and energy, and it’s common to feel like there’s no space for yourself. Having time for your own needs is important for looking after your wellbeing, and even a small amount of self-care can make a big difference.
Consider some activities that you enjoy that you could share with the person you care for, or do whilst keeping them company. This could be reading, drawing, watching a film, listening to music, or just getting some fresh air.
If you are still working alongside being a carer, you may be able to use your commute to get some headspace, perhaps through reading a book you like or practising mindfulness techniques. Whether you work or not, try to prioritise taking break as regularly as possible where you can switch off from your responsibilities.
It can be difficult to step away from your caring role – because you care! – but it’s important to care for yourself as well.
It can be difficult to reach out, especially if you are unsure about who to speak to or what support is available. If this is your first time as a carer, the Carers Trust ‘Upfront’ tool helps to clarify the benefits and support you are entitled to depending on your situation.
Other ways to ask for support can include:
We can sometimes forget about ourselves when we are caring for someone else, but remember: your wellbeing is just as important and it’s OK to ask for help.
Setting boundaries can be difficult for carers, but ensuring that you are comfortable with what’s expected of you, and that your cared for person know what to expect from you, can make things much easier for you both.
Consider discussing the following with the person you care for:
After agreeing your boundaries, perhaps set a regular time (e.g. monthly) to check in and see how you are both feeling to assess what's working and if anything could be done differently.
Being a carer can feel lonely at times, so ensuring that you have a good support network can make a big difference.
Think of the people in your life that you feel comfortable speaking to – if there is a particular person (such as a friend, family member, or colleague) that you trust, try to schedule a regular time to speak with them. This could be a weekly phone call, meeting to go for a walk together during your break, or even just through text message.
You could also join a local carers’ support group where you can connect with other carers and people who share similar experiences, and have regular social interaction. You can search for support by organisation name, region, and/or county through the Carers UK website.
We never know what’s coming, and caring for someone who has a long-term illness, disability, or mental health condition can involve a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. Having people who are aware of your needs – as well as the needs of your cared for person – can make it easier to handle anything unexpected.