If you are a carer, then you are one in every 10 Australians (as of 2018), looking after the needs of a loved one.
You belong to a significant group of valuable people. In fact, if replaced with paid workers, the accumulated labour of unpaid carers would cost the country $77.9 billion every year. Yet studies continue to show informal carers can feel overlooked, socially isolated and overwhelmingly lonely.
If you feel a sense of loss of control over your life, you are not alone. Carers often feel they fade into the background as they prioritise the needs of their loved ones, neglecting their own mental, physical and social health. They are too busy or too tired to see friends or family, face financial hardship due to the high costs of care, and struggle to access personal or formal supports to ease the load.
Quite often, carers really struggle to talk to others about their experience for fear of rejection, judgement, or simply not being understood.
All these factors can place you at high risk of social isolation. It is hardly surprising Australian carers are two and a half times more likely to have a lower sense of wellbeing than the average person, and are three times more likely to experience loneliness.
In reality, 35 percent of carers report often, or always, feeling lonely.
If you are a carer struggling with loneliness or social isolation, what can be done?
- Seek out information. Find out what support services are available and reach out for help. If you look after an older person, Advocare provides free and confidential advocacy services to help ease the challenges of navigating aged care.
- Find your tribe. Look for peer support groups and events in your local area, or join online forums and social media groups for like-minded people.
- Technology is here to help. Stay social by calling or video chatting with friends and family. Apps like Skype, Zoom, Discord, WhatsApp and Facebook allow for group video calls and even online games. Why not set up a weekly virtual coffee chat?
- Stay active. Exercise is important for both physical and mental health. Joining a social sport or club is a great way to make connections while working up a sweat. Alternatively, find moments throughout the day to move your body like going on short walks, following along to an exercise video on YouTube, or committing to a stretch every couple of hours.
- Get creative. Look for classes at your local community centre, or browse the web. Watch a ‘how-to’ video on YouTube to master origami, practice photography on your smartphone, or learn a new language on the Duolingo app.
- Connect with neighbours. The proximity of neighbours means you will always have someone to talk to and even help keep your home safe. Start a monthly book club or offer to help with their garden.
We know it can be overwhelming to even think about giving one of these ideas a go, and we recognise the valiant effort that goes into taking on the responsibility of someone else’s care. Redirecting attention back to your life can begin with small steps like enjoying a daily 10-minute stroll, or taking a moment to greet and have a short chat with a neighbour. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help at any stage in your caregiving journey.
- Advocare volunteering: www.advocare.org.au/volunteer-with-us
- Carers WA Linking Together Social Support groups: www.carerswa.asn.au/our-services/social-support
- Carer’s WA Young Carer Program: www.carerswa.asn.au/our-services/young-carers
- Carers Gateway: www.carergateway.gov.au/
- Volunteering WA: www.volunteeringwa.org.au
- Dementia WA: www.dementia.org.au/support
- Alzheimer’s WA: www.alzheimerswa.org.au/our-services
- Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au
Carers Australia. 2021. Caring for Others and Yourself: The 2021 Carer Wellbeing Survey. [online] Available at: <https://www.carersaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/211011_Carer-Wellbeing-Survey-Executive-Summary_FINAL.pdf> [Accessed 17 October 2022].
Carers UK. 2017. The World Shrinks: Carer Loneliness. [online] Available at: <https://www.carersuk.org/images/News__campaigns/The_world_Shrinks_Final.pdf> [Accessed 17 October 2022].