Why do so many carers not call themselves a carer?
I have cared for my mum for nearly 20 years, but I would still never call myself a carer. For me putting that “r” on the end makes it feel wrong, almost dirty. And I’m not alone. Speaking to others you constantly hear:
“I’m his wife, not his carer”
“I do it because I love her not because I’m a carer”
But why is the word so off-putting? And why is that a problem? Saying that I am a carer for my mum, is at the same time, a public acknowledgment of the challenges I and my family are facing. And for many years this was a step too far for me. I was embarrassed and ashamed, I didn’t want people to know. And for others, they would just rather people didn’t know. But I will talk about this another time, as I want to concentrate on the word itself.
So, why is the word so off-putting? I think it all comes from the fact that, being a carer can also be a profession, an incredibly difficult one at that. And for many the profession is what they associate the word carer with.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who chose to be carers, but for me and many others, it is not a choice, we do it simply because we love and care for someone. And by calling us by the same name, it feels like it calls into question our incentives.
“I don’t do this for a job, I do it because I love her”
This is made worse by the fact that when people often think of a “carer”, they imagine only the less glamorous sides of the role, helping someone wash or taking them to the bathroom. For many, including myself, this is not part of the role at all.
Yes, sometimes it can feel like a job, and it can often be a full-time commitment, but it is not a job, and many have had to give up jobs because of it. Using the same word to describe my role and that of the role of those who choose it as a profession, does not reflect the reality of the situation.
Some suggest using unpaid or unprofessional carers to distinguish the role from the profession. But this suggests an amateur-ness, and I know so many carers who have such incredible knowledge and expertise they are anything but amateur!
So, do we need a new word for a carer? I think so. But why is it a problem?
First and foremost, it means carers often do not get the support they need and are entitled to.
I didn’t know until recently that there was such a thing as a carer centre, where I could go to access support and guidance. Or know that there were benefits I could receive as a carer? [Check out www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/financial-support for more information on benefits]
For many, caring responsibilities has an adverse impact on their physical and mental health. Over 80% suffer with stress, anxiety and loneliness as a result of their caring role.The NHS has acknowledged that this is a problem, so much so that they have a published commitment to carers.
But if many don’t recognise themselves as “carers”, and the support services are aimed at “carers” then surely we will continue to fail to support so many who simply, like me, care for a loved one.
We need to take a more inclusive look at the way we support communities to ensure everyone gets the support they need. I know for sure that we all need a little (lot) more support.
About the author
Kyro Brooks has cared for his mum since he was 13, she suffers from both physical and mental ill health. Alongside his co-founder, James Townsend, Kyro is running Mobilise, an online platform for those who support a loved one.