A LOCAL mum has spoken out about the ‘hopeless reality’ facing unpaid carers.
Carmel Conroy from Omagh is not only a devoted mother to her son, Cianain, but also his full-time carer.
Cianain, who turned 18 in January, was diagnosed with classic autism (now known as Autism Spectrum Disorder) when he was two, and learning difficulties at the age of seven.
Although respite support was available to Carmel, this resource was removed when Cianain was 14.
“Everything is a battle,” Carmel told the UH. “You push yourself to the very limit every day as a carer, and your health definitely suffers as a result.”
Carmel was speaking after a new report from Carers NI suggested that nearly half of unpaid carers in the North experienced symptoms of depression, while 79 per-cent said they often felt lonely. .
“You put your own health on the back burner, and you just have to battle on,” continued Carmel.
“I’m on anti-depressants for my own mental health, and they just aren’t working. I feel completely exhausted all of the time, and I often find myself crying and not knowing why.
“You have little-to-no freedom, and just feel very helpless.”
Cianain has suffered with his own mental health problems since he was 15, a situation which Carmel ‘is constantly fighting to make better’.
In a bid to help communicate the severity of Cianain’s anxiety, Carmel shared what he wrote on his Christmas list just the other day.
It read, ‘I just want to feel happy again.’
“It would break your heart,” stated Carmel, who openly admits she has to balance her son’s mental health needs while struggling with her own.
“I have to get out of bed in the morning and paint on a smile because I’m his safe place,” she said.
“If mummy can’t fix it, then who can?”
The Carers NI report revealed that the pressure facing carers is leaving some considering extreme courses of action, with 24 per-cent of carers saying they have had ‘thoughts related to suicide or self-harm’.
It was found that many carers didn’t ask for help due to having no time to prioritise their own mental wellbeing. Providing hundreds of thousands of hours of care each week, a large majority of carers said they had ‘continued providing care, despite feeling at breaking point’.
The report concluded, ‘Carers need their legislators in Stormont to make their lives better, so as a prerequisite to delivering the policy reforms outlined in the report, we are calling for the urgent restoration of Northern Ireland’s political institutions’.
Carmel says she often feels ‘very lonely’, and has no opportunity to socialise with friends.
The local woman used to access respite care, which allowed her to spend quality time with her 13-year-old daughter, Grace, but now she ‘barely gets a moment’ with Grace due to her caring responsibilities.
“Grace has adjusted to this over the years, but it is also very tough for her,” she added.
Carmel says she has sought help from the health authorities, but to no avail.
“Rejection from services becomes a normal occurrence,” she commented.
“You get tired of jumping through hoops, only to find you don’t qualify.
“There are just so many of us left in limbo, and we are just reaching for whatever help we can get.”
However, Carmel has recently been receiving invaluable support from the ‘We Care Project’ – a new scheme managed by FOCUS in Omagh which works with carers providing specialist support as well as the opportunity to share experiences.
“The struggles faced by local carers in the Omagh area include lack of services, waiting times for medical appointments and diagnosis of conditions,” Diane Wilson from the We Care Project told the UH.
“Carers on limited incomes are having to pay for private health appointments which are impacting their ability to cope financially, whilst adding additional strains on the family.
“Lone parents of children with additional needs are struggling to get admitted to hospital due to lack of adequate respite provision. There is a general all-round consensus that the lack of respite care is leaving carers in a 24-7 role without adequate breaks, which is impacting their ability to cope.
“Carers feel unsupported, not listened to and totally isolated. One of the few comforts that they get is to meet and talk to other carers about their daily struggles. This is what the We Care Project offers.
“The We Care Project is a great help,” Carmel added.
“Everyone is completely empathetic because they understand – and not many do. That’s the only hope we have at the moment. “You can count on them.”
The We Care Project can be contacted by emailing email@example.com.
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