Carers struggling to cope during the pandemic

Jolly says it took a while before he realised that he needed to get help with how he was feeling.

He went through what even at “normal” times are stressful experiences – losing his part-time job as receptionist at a yoga studio as the lockdown hit hard, and had to adapt to a new life.

The 34-year-old recalls: “It was really tough getting out of bed. I did not understand it.”

Jolly Labarbera, who is a carer for his mother and lives in World’s End

But he says he fulfilled his caring role looking after his mother, 74-year-old Lourdes, shopping, cooking, taking care of the bills and making sure she took her medication, going out with her for walks when she felt able to.

At the same time the Chelsea resident was also juggling dealing with “the negative stuff that just wouldn’t go away and it became more amplified”.

Jolly says he thinks a combination of things caused him to feel bad – trying to protect his mum from what was going on and adapting to what life was like living with a pandemic.

“I did not understand the Covid situation – this new world and what it meant for me and my mum,” he says.

“I was trying to understand how I fit in, trying to work out how I feel about it and trying not to watch the news because it was scaring us.”

So he did his best to avoid scaring his mother and “tried to function the best I could. It made it difficult.”

Normally he explains “I’m a person who likes to get out of bed.”

But lethargy struck and “I was struggling to even shower”.

“I have never met myself in this capacity before. It really does mess with your psyche in terms of your sense of place.”

Jolly was alarmed by his feelings and got help and contacted his GP. He got support from the community wellness programme.

“It’s given me some tools to help with mental health,” he says.

He also spoke to a therapist whilst waiting for the NHS help. “Now I am getting used to the world and what’s going on. I understand it,” he says.

He also tries to keep on top of his motivation by doing some exercise.

“Even just ten minutes of exercise every other day is a good start. It’s about the journey and the destination  and how your mind works.”

Janet Seale is adamant that carers like Jolly should not feel guilty about taking time for themselves.

Janet Seale, who is a carer in St John’s Wood,

The 67-year-old from St John’s Wood has been a carer for a long time.

She says: “I am aware of the contribution that unpaid carers make – £132 billion a year. I would encourage carers to come forward for help if they need. Things would just collapse if unpaid carers stopped what they did.”

“Time for yourself is as important as breathing,” she says.

And lockdown has curtailed some of that breathing space for her.

“I’m not able to go off and have a coffee or a glass of wine, that’s very annoying.”

She is a carer for her husband and is also remotely supporting her sister who has a learning disability during the pandemic.

Her son visits regularly and NHS staff also call.

Whilst things are pretty full on Janet also works with  the Royal College of Psychiatrists on their employment boards and is on the Central North West London NHS Trust carers service users group, to help make sure they get the support they need.

CNWL cares for patients with mental health issues in Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon as well as Milton Keynes.

But she describes how during a period of disturbed sleep as a carer “I was extremely tired”.

Some days are better than others, she explains and says carers are human too and sometimes lose their tempers like anyone else.

Dr Mehtab Ghazi Rahman is the new lead clinician for integrating better physical health for people with serious mental illness for CNWL

Dr Mehtab Ghazi Rahman is CNWL’s  doctor in charge of helping  people with serious mental illness with their physical health.

He said: “People with severe mental illness continue to die 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population.”

“It’s so important for all of us to look after our mental and physical health at this time. There are so many things people are going through at the moment, job losses, not going to university, feeling isolated, not meeting up with their family and friends.”

More people are getting diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders, with many more people suffering sleep problems during pandemic.

Dr Rahman explained that inactivity and dependence on cigarettes or alcohol can contribute to shorter lives for people with mental health problems.

CNWL does cardiometabolic screening to help people avoid heart attacks or strokes in the future and focus on patients and their carers to help ensure good physical health, whilst helping their mental health.

“It’s important not to put physical and mental health into compartments,” he said.

GPs can also put carers in touch with support groups and NHS volunteers can help pick up the shopping, he added.

CNWL also offers psychological help tailored to carers as well.

His tips to help keep well include:

Being really disciplined about our lifestyles – taking exercise, having a good diet and cutting down on smoking and alcohol and avoiding comfort eating.

Limit use of social media and avoid digital devices before bed.

Keep a thought diary to help unwind.

Practice breathing techniques.

Focus on successes like the millions of people who have been vaccinated against covid.

Getting a good night’s sleep to help boost self esteem.

“It’s one of the best therapeutic interventions you can have.”

And whilst gyms might be shut there are other ways to get exercise.

“Do not pressure yourself to do an hour long exercise session. Slowly build up to that, go out for a walk to infuse your brain with oxygen,” he said.

He also advised having set meal times as covid has trampled all over our timetables.

And he added: “Covid is a respiratory virus, you want to be as fit as you can.”

 

 


 

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