70% of unpaid carers say pandemic has worsened mental health – study

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Seven in 10 unpaid carers in the UK say caring during the coronavirus pandemic has worsened their emotional or mental health, according to a global study spanning 12 countries.

More than three quarters (77%) of UK respondents said they are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout, according to a Carer Well-Being Index produced by the science and technology company Merck.

British carers were more likely than those in other countries to feel unable to take a break and feel their social life is being negatively affected by their responsibilities, its Embracing Carers study found.

Researchers surveyed more than 9,000 unpaid carers across 12 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, including 755 UK respondents, between September 3 and October 27 2020.

It found the pandemic has led to rising demand and responsibilities, and the physical, mental, financial, social and career implications can combine to erode carers’ well-being.

Some 70% of UK respondents said caring during the pandemic has negatively affected their emotional and mental health, higher than the 61% average for the 12 countries.

More than half (54%) said it has also impacted their financial wellbeing, and 49% said their physical health had been compromised.

People in the UK reported spending on average 4.6 more hours a week caring compared to before the pandemic.

Almost half (48%) of UK carers said the person they care for is relying on them more than they did before, and 67% said the pandemic has made their role harder.

A third said the biggest challenge they have faced during the pandemic is being unable to take a break, higher than the 23% average for all the countries.

UK carers were also significantly more likely to believe that being a carer negatively impacts their relationship with friends (63% versus 50% global average) and their career (56% versus 50% global average).

According to Carers UK, an estimated 13.6 million people in the UK have provided unpaid care during the peak of the pandemic and continue to do so.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said the study is the “largest and most comprehensive comparative global study of unpaid carers”, adding: “The last year has shone a light on the extraordinary support unpaid carers have provided, but this has come at a cost, with many experiencing severe emotional strain and burnout.

“Carers are in need of support and are at risk of illness as a result.

“As we move out of lockdown it is vital that the Government, services and all parts of our communities play their role providing support for carers to take respite breaks, improve awareness and understanding of the resources and support available to carers, and that carers get greater access to that support, whether it is emotional, physical or financial.”

The study also found that 63% of UK respondents believe they are not receiving enough support from national Government, and 62% believe this is true of local Government.

Doina Ionescu, managing director at Merck Healthcare UK & ROI, added: “Many of us have experienced, or will experience, what it is like to be a carer for a loved one.

“Caregiving needs to be made a public health priority to provide better support, especially during a time where we will see the knock-on effect of Covid-19 for the immediate future and beyond.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Supporting the mental wellbeing of everyone during this difficult time is a priority for the Government and we have backed our mental health recovery plan with £500 million to ensure everyone receives the world-class help they need.

“We recognise the vital role that unpaid carers have played throughout the pandemic and we have provided funding for the Carers UK phoneline, prioritised vaccinations and personal protective equipment, as well as testing.

“Through the Government-backed Infection Control Fund, we have provided funding to local authorities to help day care services reopen safely or be adapted to work in a Covid-secure way.”