Thousands of carers in Northern Ireland 'let down by lack of support and advice'
Thousands of carers in Northern Ireland are being let down by a lack of support and advice, a leading charity has claimed.
The emotional, physical and financial impact of caring has been laid bare for the first time in a new report.
The study, commissioned by Carers Northern Ireland, found that 62% of people had experienced depression while 88% admitted to feeling more stressed as a result of their duties.
More than half (51%) also experienced difficulties in relationships with their partner and a further 62% found it hard to maintain friendships.
Helen Ferguson, director of Carers Northern Ireland, said more help must be offered. "Becoming a carer can happen overnight and without information and guidance, carers can be left feeling isolated and alone.
The figures clearly show that carers aren't being offered support and if they are, it can often be wrong or not the full information. The consequences for carers are huge, so it's vital that GPs, health and social care professionals and the government all play a role to ensure that carers are offered the support they deserve from day one," she said.
There are an estimated 214,000 carers in Northern Ireland with an additional 200 people taking on responsibilities for an ill or elderly friend or relative every day.
According to Carers NI 31% of people were given the wrong advice while 84% said they were not aware of the support available.
The struggle to balance work and caring responsibilities was also highlighted with 41% of people forced to give up work.
Esme Charles, who gave up work to care for her husband Denis, said she did not know where to turn when she hit crisis point.
Mrs Charles said: "Most people aren't prepared for the caring role they take on. Despite helping my husband for 40 years, it didn't strike me until very recently that I had become his carer. I gave up work to look after Denis and we managed as best we could until we hit a crisis point and didn't know how to get help. Thankfully a friend pointed us in the right direction. As I get older though, caring is taking a toll on me physically, emotionally and mentally, and it's difficult to get the time I need to myself. You learn about caring as you go along but more information and training early on would have helped me be better prepared for what was to come."