Carers Week 2015 – Building carer friendly communities

Matthew Mckenzie (2)This blog post centres on carers week 2015, which runs from 8-14 of June. Carers week occurs each year raising awareness of carers or care givers. Carers week in the UK also has many supporters and collaborators ranging from CarersUK, Carerstrust, Macmillian Cancer support, AgeUK, Sainsbury and so on.

If you ever happen to visit the Carers Week website, feel free to make a pledge on
their pledge wall.

The cost of caring

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There are many carers and organisations that have contributed to carers week
2015, I as a mental health carer I feel I should at least add some of my own views.
Interestingly enough I have noticed that the theme of Carers Week 2015 is on building carer friendly communities and of course this is a good thing. There are in the UK around 6.5 million carers. It is a fact that Carers provide help, support and care not only to family members, but also to close friends or neighbours. Without that much needed support from carers in the UK, then the UK’s National Health Service would collapse.

As for unpaid Carers, they help save up to billions worth of care, which totals up to over £100 billion, but unfortunately many carers sacrifice so much in order to provide that much needed support for a loved one.

With the time spent on caring, carers end up sacrificing time, work opportunities
and a social life in order to make sure their loved ones are able to cope. Still, I feel its important to state that its not to say that being a carer is a burden, it is just to state that carers can miss out on many things people take for granted.

The community issue

The big question is that do people out there really want to be carers? Most would, but not under such difficult circumstances, which is why I can see the need for carer friendly communities. Yet, something seems at odds here. We want communities to value families and carers, but what is a community in the first place?

What examples can be set out for a good community?

If you look closely at a good sustainable community, you are bound to see that there are links between each person, these links then extends to the family and then on to even more families within the community, the thing is we are all connected. However eventually we all become ill at some point in our lives, and if we wish for support, then either the family or a friend may step in to aid us. If no one is there to help us in our time of need, we are then likely to become more unwell without that much needed emotional and physical support.

So a worrying situation is what if this circumstance was extended across the community? what if no one wanted to care or help one another person? What if this was the situation in every family?

We are then left with the worrying question on What are the risks to the community?

A caring philosophy

Well, the answer is fairly obvious and this could be down to letting organisations like the health service or paid care having to step in, although the situation at present is that such organisations are suffering stretched resources.

The problem though is if all communities began to act like this, then it would not be long before we all suffer, it would not be long before the community becomes fragmented and breaks down.

As a lover of philosophy, I came across philosophical theory from Immanuel Kant a famous German philosopher who pointed out in his moral ethics that what would happen if every one was out for themselves, then obviously society would break down.

If people felt that the important things in life were accumulating as many material things as possible then we would loose the connection into what makes us a community.

What about what can make a happy community? If we extend Kant’s Moral ethics to another philosopher that being the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the idea of accumulating material wealth is not so highly valued in accordance to the idea of happiness, because when we die, we cannot take such wealth with us.

So in the end our happiness is not permanent. This was the question
Aristotle wanted to examine, what is the idea of permanent happiness, which is based upon his Nicomachean Ethics.

The thing is Carers have values, they have codes and ethics. We
carry out these duties in order to extend not only happiness to others, but deepen and strengthen our relationships, even if such relationships begin to fail, then at least mortality is what is left. Carers and families also form the bonds of communities. It does no good for a community to slowly feel that we all need to just be out for ourselves.

After all, what is a community if there is no connection to anyone except to accumulate wealth?

What I am trying to get at is carers are part of the community and to make a community more carer friendly is a community that is on the verge of struggling.

Its only a matter of time

Still, We have to be realistic, carers are also the hidden aspect to the community, they carry out their caring duties to the point of isolation. There are also other carers out there struggling to make ends meet. If you are reading this blog, you might feel it may never happen to you, but with all communities, either you will care for someone, or be cared for. Perhaps it is a matter of time.

If you are connected to a loved one within a family or to a friend, its highly unlikely you want to see them continue to suffer. So we can see why 45% of carers have given up their job to try care for someone who is in desperate need. With watching a loved one suffer, it is no wonder why so many carers end up suffering emotional problems as depression or stress begins to set in.

Is this what we want for families and carers? For them to be isolated and end up being unwell? Is this what is this what is desired for a community?

So how can we help a community become more carer aware? In fact how can we help THE community?

Smile and say hello

Being a mental health carer, such things can make so much difference. I admit this may actually seem simple to do, but we are not mind readers. Smiling when someone is down or hostile can easily lead to rejection. However a smile to a carer who is struggling can really make their day, in fact we should all try and smile and say hello to anyone within the community. So they feel welcomed.

Respect our elders, respect the family

A community just does not come into existence without the hard work of those who have given so much to form the community. This means our elders, our families, we must respect them. They have given so much of their life to give many a solid foundation of a community. After all, we will be elders ourselves. In the UK I still believe we just do not respect old people enough. I can see the reason why AgeUK has to try so hard to raise the profile of the difficulties old people face.

Community events

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If you go through my blog, it would not take long to see I attend many events. These range from many of the South and South East Healthwatch events. I also attend mental health events and carer events. If there is one thing that bonds the community it is coming together to solve issues, celebrate our achievements and also contribute at events.

Share our knowledge

We all have knowledge of something, if you experience something, then you have knowledge of it. Knowledge may not be of value to everyone, but I bet it is of value to someone. Just like I am sharing my knowledge of this blog post, we should try and share our knowledge with the community in however form it takes. Remember we cannot keep knowledge or wealth forever and its value must be held in the community.

Make friends

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Carers and families can suffer in isolation. Relationships can break down under the strain of caring. It is no wonder why so many carers end up isolated. It is no wonder why so many mental health service users remain isolated. So as the title suggests, we need to make friends. I mean we NEED to do this, not just to be friends because friends are there to help. We should try and make friends to share the journey with others.

Learn from others

As with sharing our knowledge, a community thrives if there are members willing to learn from others. We could learn from the skilled and unskilled, the community can learn from mistakes and successes. If there is the opportunity to continue learning then the whole community can benefit. My motto is there is always space to learn and value should be placed not only on qualifications, but education.

Get involved in projects that inspire you

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As stated before, In my blog you will find many events that I attend and support. I have been known to go near and far to any mental health event and support it. I am also a member of the Lewisham Mental Health Connection, Carer forums, Suicide and Mortality research and I am involved on patient participation and GP surgeries. We do not always need to be involved for payment, many important projects have built momentum due to the power of volunteering.

Ask for help when needed

People wonder why so many become unwell, the first reason is we are just too afraid to ask for help. If all in the community felt there was no need to be vulnerable and ask for help, then we risk fragmentation. We need to stand up and be counted, there is no need to feel so desperate that we have to end it all. Be this a carer or family, we must ask for help and continue to do so if we are in need.

Listen, I mean really listen

Carers can learn the skills to listen, it is one of their core skills, but as a community to become carer friendly, it is so important we listen to carers. Sometimes there are no present solutions, but to not listen is asking for trouble. GPs need to listen, MPs need to listen, those with the power to change the community need to listen and then eventually act.

Finally, tell people that you appreciate them.

There are many other important things that can build a community, but to tell people we value their contribution or value their existence can be one of the most vital and powerful things. You would not believe the amount of people that exist only to under value those around them. I am sure there are those who feel people exist to be used and abused. A community can show its strength if it reminds every member of that community that we appreciate what they done or who they are. We are all fighting the difficult battle to belong to the community.

Well, I hope I have shed some light on what a community is and how a community can be carer friendly. I just hope no one should exist in isolation, we all have something to give and as a community we must not be lost to social engineering where value is placed only on material wealth.

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