As we celebrate Carers Week 2014, it is an opportunity to reflect on the role and contribution of carers in our community. There are 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia and the estimated annual replacement value of care provided in 2012 was over $40.9 billion (Carers Australia, 2014).
With an aging population in Australia, the number of people requiring care continues to grow, while less people are available to provide it.
In an environment where government spending on health and community care systems is at perpetual risk of being slashed, the capacity for families and friends to sustain their caring roles for others is of ongoing importance.
Traditionally, service providers have not been responsible for the health and wellbeing of families and support networks of service recipients. However, recent years have seen the introduction of government initiatives such as The National Carer Recognition Framework, which includes the Carer Recognition Act (2010) and the National Carer Strategy (The Strategy) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011).
Together these policies aim to ensure that the needs of families and other support networks are considered in the development and evaluation of programs and services that directly affect them or the person they care for. Carer health and wellbeing is identified in The Strategy as a priority area.
The Strategy’s vision is for carers to have rights, choices, opportunities and skills to take part in the community. Towards this vision, many health and allied service providers are beginning to deliver services specifically aimed at supporting the families of service recipients. For example, the Australian Government Targeted Community Care—Mental Health Respite: Carer Support funds community managed organisations to deliver services to assist family and carers of people with a mental illness to sustain their own wellbeing, their supportive roles and to maintain connections with their communities.
Recent research shows that carers of people with a mental illness experience significantly lower wellbeing than the general Australian population, so it is incumbent upon the community broadly to support carers when we can and to remain mindful of the significant contribution carers make to our country, society and economy.
Why do carers experience lower psychological wellbeing than other Australians?
Experience of social isolation, financial hardship, lack of self-esteem, limited self-efficacy, feel like they don’t have control, loss of identity, lost hope for their own future and future of the person they care about. (Lower physical health is a whole other matter).
What is not the problem?
- it’s not severity of the condition
- it’s not the challenging behaviours
- it’s not the person with the mental illness.
What is the problem?
- barriers (various) to accessing services which teach effective coping and self-care skills
- not knowing how to effectively support their loved ones’ recovery
- chronic financial stressors
- isolation due to time restraints but also due to stigma of mental illness
- lack of holistic support services which take into account complex living situations e.g. children at home, transport, work commitments, relationship strain etc.
Aftercare delivers a range of services aimed at supporting the wellbeing of family and friends of people with a mental health concern. Aftercare’s new Family and Carer Support Service (inner-south Brisbane) aims to meet the changing needs of individuals and families.
The social and emotional wellbeing of all people is important to Aftercare—which believes that families, friends and carers of people with a mental illness deserve a community that supports their wellbeing as well as that of their loved ones.
What is available?
- information and referral to services that family and carers might find useful
- education workshops
- emotional support and assistance to develop coping strategies
- solution focused planning
- social and recreational activities
- practical assistance dealing with health services, welfare agencies or other day-to-day challenges
- someone to stand beside you in difficult situations.
The Family and Carer Support service also provide links to:
- individual and family counselling
- respite and breaks from the caring role
- financial and legal services
- readiness for work
- peer support groups.
What can the general public / workplaces / health systems do to address these issues?
We can all be mindful that:
Mental Illness is everyone’s business
Everybody will know someone who is impacted upon by mental illness
Now is the time for each of us to make a change to live well
Thoughtfulness makes such a difference to own and other’s mental health and sense of wellbeing
Attitudes—we all need to take the time to consider the impacts of STIGMA about mental illness
Living well—families and friends who provide support and care for others who have a mental illness, a disability or are frail aged—need encouragement to look after themselves too.
National Operations Manager
For more information call Carol or Tegan on phone (07) 3435 2600 or visit http://www.aftercare.com.au/.