THOUSANDS of unpaid carers in South Tyneside are losing out as they struggle to look after sick or disabled family members while saving the country millions, a charity claims.
The Carers Trust says almost six out of 10 say their mental health has been affected by the strain of looking after a loved one, and the same number say it has harmed their working life.
About two-thirds (64 per cent) said they had never accessed any support or services, such as counselling or respite breaks.
The last Government census revealed there were 16,000 carers in South Tyneside, and Karen Weaver, a volunteer with Just-Ice, based at Action Station in Boldon Lane, South Shields, says these latest figures are shocking and will only get worse.
Just-Ice was launched last year to provide emotional and practical support for mental health carers in the borough.
Miss Weaver said it is believed there are up to 38,000 people in South Tyneside with short or long-term mental health problems – thousands of whom are looked after by friends or family members.
For many carers the physical and mental strain has a huge impact on their lives, leaving them feeling isolated and without a place to go to seek help and advice.
Miss Weaver, 48, said: “In today’s climate, with the economic pressures people face, the number of people with mental health problems is increasing. That is placing an extra burden on their carers. It’s the reason Just-Ice was launched.
“With all the cutbacks, services are being lost and that places extra pressure on the carers, who end up neglecting their own personal care, health and careers.
“It’s a huge problem, and not nearly enough support is available.”
Anne Roberts, chief executive of the Carers Trust, which works to improve services and support for unpaid carers, said: “As this survey shows, many unpaid carers have never accessed any support services to help them.
“We already know that many carers don’t have any awareness of the kind of help that is out there and what a difference it could make to their lives.
“We’ve launched the Carers Trust so we can ensure that all carers know where to go to get that help.”
The new report found that almost six in 10 (59 per cent) of carers said their role had a negative impact on their working life.
And a total of 58 per cent said that their mental health has been affected by being a carer.
SELFLESS Alison Turner cares for her parents around the clock, despite having health problems herself.
The 46-year-old is registered blind, but still does all she can to help her mother and father.
Miss Turner lives in Medway Avenue, Hebburn, with her mother, Nancy, 77, who has osteoporosis, and father, Jimmy, 76, who has arthritis.
The pair also have heart problems and use wheelchairs.
Miss Turner considers it her duty to look after her parents, but admits it adversely affects her health.
She said: “I am the last one at home, and it is right that I look after my parents, but it means I can’t really live my own life.
“I was diagnosed with diabetes in November, and I’m sure the pressure of being a carer has not been good for my health. I don’t really have time to go to the blind club anymore, my parents are my No1 priority.
“There is no chance of me pursuing a career. This is my full-time job.”
Miss Turner was born with a problem in her eyes that wasn’t noticed until she was 15 years old when a blood vessel burst in her right eye.
In 2002, a blood vessel in her left eye burst. This left her partially blind in one eye and completely blind in the other.
She also has arthritis.
She added: “People don’t really appreciate the immense pressure of being a carer.”