State failing in its duty to help hidden army of carers
The carers in Ireland are people who get up early in the morning, says Brendan O'Connor, and often they won't have slept much either. We should support them more
'A hidden army' is how the front page of the Indo described them. It was apt. Sometimes, one of them will break rank to speak to you. They don't moan but it comes tumbling out. They are grateful of anyone they think might understand, anyone who they suspect is vaguely in the club, too. Because they don't like to moan. It feels disloyal. It feels especially disloyal to moan to an outsider, who wouldn't get it. But between those who are in the club there is an understanding, that you can bitch a little without it meaning you don't love the family member you care for.
Like so many heroes, they don't see themselves as heroic, they just think they are doing what anyone would do. They do it out of love and duty. But not a duty they wear heavily. According to the latest Census figures just released, there are nearly 200,000 of them that we know of. That's nearly one in 20 of us. But the thing is that many carers don't identify as carers. They are just doing what anyone would do, looking after a family member who needs them. Family Carers Ireland thinks there could be 160,000 more in the hidden army.
Sometimes you meet them and you can tell they are on edge. Because when you are caring for someone else who has intense needs, you often don't have the time or energy to care for yourself. And you don't get to take a break much. And you have to keep going beyond the point at which you are stressed out, or burnt out, because you can't stop. There is no alternative. Many of them keep going until their own health breaks down, until their mind or the body forces them to stop. This army has its casualties.