The Invisible Carer

The invisible carer

Be seen and access a myriad of support

In Australia, approximately 2.7 million individuals find themselves in the role of providing care to family members that face challenges such as disability, medical conditions, mental illness, or age-related frailty. Interestingly, many of these carers do not perceive themselves as “carers”; rather, they view their roles through the lens of familial relationships, identifying as children, parents, partners, relatives, or friends caring for someone close to them. Some individuals, especially those with a more sensitive disposition, may even take offense at the notion of being labelled as a “carer.”

However, identifying as a carer is something many people shy away from because of the specific needs that come with this role. Many individuals within this large group are unaware that, by acknowledging themselves as carers, they gain access to a wide array of support and resources tailored to their needs. Embracing the label of a carer is a proactive choice, and it means that you’ll have access to a wealth of resources that you might otherwise not have.

Before the Aged Care sector is what it is today, familial and community networks served as the primary sources of care. The responsibility of caring for others was an unquestioned duty, particularly falling on the shoulders of women, who assumed the role of unpaid carers. This societal expectation was deeply ingrained, with women fulfilling their caring duties out of gratitude, love, and respect for their families, neighbours, and friends.

During this era, the idea of self-identifying as a “carer” never crossed anyone’s mind. Governments did not provide social support, presuming there was no need. The unwritten assumption was that women, as carers, would naturally attend to the needs of children, the elderly, and individuals with illnesses or disabilities. The concept of categorizing and counting people as “carers” did not exist.

The invisible carer

Fast forward to today, and societal structures have undergone significant transformations. Extended family households are less common, with nuclear families becoming the norm. Moreover, women now have increased access to education and employment opportunities, contributing to what is often referred to as a “care crisis.” Sadly, the imbalance persists, as men have not proportionately increased their involvement in family care responsibilities. The struggle to balance paid work and caring is exacerbated by workplace expectations that may not align with the demands of being a carer, requiring round-the-clock attention.

While the decision to reduce work hours or forgo paid employment is often framed as a choice to spend more time with loved ones, individuals may resist adopting the label of “carer.” The societal devaluation of caring, often unpaid or underpaid, contributes to this reluctance. Many prefer alternative labels such as worker, spouse, parent, child, sibling, or friend, aligning more with traditional societal roles.

Efforts to encourage individuals to self-identify as carers have met with limited success. This may be due, in part, to the perceived devaluation of the carer role and the societal tendency to reward valued roles with financial compensation. Additionally, individuals may resist the label as they don’t perceive themselves as carers but rather as contributors within familial and social roles.

However, accepting the label of a carer is crucial for unlocking access to a variety of both resources and much-needed support. It facilitates connection with other individuals facing similar situations, and enables the sharing of valuable insights and strategies to navigate the complexities of caring. Moreover, embracing the carer identity enables individuals to be counted and strengthens their collective voice in advocating for increased resources and support.

While some carers may initially resist the label, a mindset shift can help reconcile both internal and external identities. Recognizing that individuals can embody both the internal identities of family roles and the external identity of a carer allows for a harmonious coexistence. By accepting the external label, carers signal to governments and organizations that they may have specific needs, fostering a better understanding and allocation of resources.

Understanding the dual nature of identity is key. Sociologist Dr. Raelene Wilding explains that identities consist of both an inner sense of self and external categories and roles imposed by society. Accepting the external label of a carer does not diminish the internal sense of self; instead, it can enhance the nurturing of the inner identity. By acknowledging the external label, individuals contribute to the societal recognition of carers, potentially leading to increased resources and support.

How do I know if I’m a carer?

Continuous support:

If you consistently provide physical, emotional, or financial support to someone with chronic illness, disability, or other care needs, you’re a carer.

Responsibility for daily activities:

If you find yourself actively involved in the day-to-day tasks of another person, such as meal preparation, personal hygiene assistance, or medication management, you’re a carer.

Advocacy and coordination:

If you often find yourself advocating on behalf of the person you care for, whether it involves coordinating medical appointments, liaising with healthcare professionals, or managing paperwork related to their care, you’re a carer.

Emotional investment:

Emotional involvement in the well-being of the person you care for is a significant sign of being a carer. If their joys and struggles deeply affect you, and you actively seek ways to enhance their quality of life, you’re a carer.

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In Need of Support?

Carer Gateway is an Australian Government program providing free services and support for carers. Call Carer Gateway for support and access to services, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm local time.

Assistance with accessing emergency respite is available any time, 24/7.

1800 422 737 

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