Ireland's Carer Crisis: Stress of looking after a loved one 'can damage mental health'
Caring for an elderly loved one or someone with a chronic illness is the number one reason for individuals to suffer mental and physical health problems, a professor has revealed.
Professor Brendan Kelly, a consultant psychiatrist at Tallaght Hospital, called for better services for carers to protect their mental health.
He was part of a team which carried out ground-breaking research last year within the community.
'Physical and Mental Health in Post-Recession Ireland: A Community Study from Tallaght' surveyed 350 homes and found "carer burden" to be the single largest factor affecting carers' well-being.
"In 2014, the biggest predictor of poor mental and physical health was unemployment," Prof Kelly said.
"But now the number one cause is if a person lives in a household where another person with a disability or chronic illness lives.
"Many families want to do the best for their family member but in turn it's having a huge effect on their own health.
"Most families have no desire to be reliant on the State or HSE services but they struggle without support."
Prof Kelly said that, where there is "a lack of the nuclear family, people who care for loved ones are really finding it difficult".
"There's a lack of uncles, aunts, siblings to help care and then having too much of the responsibility is having huge detrimental effects.
"Our population is ageing and now we have high employment but we have carers really struggling and the obvious answer is more support.
"Stress leads to higher levels of cortisol in a person and if this keeps recurring then it can lead to brain, cardiac, digestive and muscular/skeletal health problems."