When caring becomes a public health concern

A recent report carried out by researchers at the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick on carers raising children with developmental difficulties, has produced worrying results according to the Carers Association.

A recent report carried out by researchers at the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick on carers raising children with developmental difficulties, has produced worrying results according to the Carers Association.

The report revealed that in carers of children with disorders such as autism, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, there was a 10% increased prevalence of clinical depression, compared to parents of typically developing children.

It was also revealed that some 15% of carers of children with disabilities who were surveyed as part of the 8,500 children in the Growing Up in Ireland Survey, were classified as depressed but less than half of those were treated for their depression.

Stemming from this report and given the impact of caring on care-givers, experts have called on authorities to classify care-giving as a major public health concern.

Catherine Cox of the Carers Association supports this move and points out that carers are often so busy caring for others that they neglect their own physical and mental health.

“We would support the call to classify care-giving as a major public health concern as we are at the coal face on a daily basis and see first-hand the strain that our members are under. It is worrying but not surprising to note that while parents are suffering from depression many are not receiving the treatment that they require. This may be because of financial difficulties preventing them from attending a GP if they don’t have a medical card or simply because they feel guilty that they have to seek help as there is still stigma attached to mental health issues.

“These parents are constantly fighting for their childrens’ rights - from fighting for a diagnosis to fighting for early intervention, right through to primary and secondary school assistance.

“Once their child reaches 18 they have to fight for after-school services and day-care centre support. One of the biggest and most worrying problems facing these parents is the lack of therapies available for their children such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language services.

Many children are languishing on waiting lists for years, and those aged over seven are at high risk of never receiving the supports. Is there any wonder that there is a higher rate of depression recorded in carers as their lives are a constant battle for services that they should be receiving automatically in many cases from the State,” says Ms Cox.

The report also found that the high rates of depression recorded in carers could be due to the need to control child behavioural problems in children with developmental difficulties with the health and well-being of the child also taking priority over the carers’ own. It was found that more problematic behaviours accounted for increased risk of depression.

“It is vital that interventions are found for the treatment of depression in these parents as evidence has shown that depressive symptoms may worsen over time. We have seen families recently losing home support for their children which is putting tremendous pressure and stress on already stressed parents and families.

We point out also that if the carer’s health fails then the State will be faced with an even larger bill to look after both the carer and the person for whom they are caring. It is in everyone’s best interest to care for the carer and put in place systems that consider the carer’s mental and physical health needs as a priority,” says Ms Cox.

Family carers provide some 900,000 hours of care daily and save the State €4billion each year. Over 21% of family carers provide 43 hours of care per week. The Carers Association provides assistance and support to some 187,112 family carers across the country.