When it comes to being a full-time carer for his wife and three children, there’s no-one better for the job than Ian Richardson.
Although suffering from epilepsy himself, no-one understands, or indeed is as committed to the needs of his young family more.
But unable to find a job flexible enough to fit around his duties at home on the Fairstead in Lynn and unable to maintain friendships, Ian is the first to admit that life can sometimes feel “quite lonely and isolated”.
He has now spoken out about the challenges he faces as a carer – and of the invaluable support he receives from the West Norfolk Carers (WNC) charity – ahead of a national campaign next week.
Carers Week, which runs from Monday to Sunday, also recognises the contribution carers make to families and communities.
Ian is one of 17,000 unpaid carers in West Norfolk caring for a family member or friend who cannot manage without help because of illness, age, mental health need, substance misuse or disability.
Ian has been providing round-the-clock care to his wife Natarli ever since she suffered an accident at work, which resulted in arthritis at the base of her spine, and she has also been diagnosed as bipolar.
Her conditions means she is unable to do the simplest of tasks, leaving him to care for her and their three children, aged seven, nine, and 13.
He regularly takes her to hospital, and relies on friends to look after her when he has to attend his own hospital appointments for his epilepsy.
He said: “I feel I need to be with my wife all the time, and so caring prevents me from being able to maintain friendships – and as a result I can feel quite lonely and isolated.”
He said the help he receives from WNC, which is based at Lynn’s Thoresby House, is second-to-none. “I get to go to their group sessions, where I can let it all out, and on outings, where I get to be myself, not just a carer,” he said.
“I receive counselling from WNC and it is there when I need it. You never know when Natarli is going to hit a real low and be impossible to live with, that’s often when I need it most.
“With WNC, I don’t have to wait long to see someone, which is a real comfort. I feel so much better knowing I can get advice when times are hardest.
“Our situation is complicated. Sometimes there are so many issues to deal with, like when we had financial problems or when I was hospitalised with my epilepsy – I was concerned about the care of my children, and Natarli, I didn’t know where to start, but we picked up the phone to WNC and they ensured we got all the help we needed, and quickly.”
Natarli said: “When I am low, I am really low. Ian is supporting me both physically and mentally. This means the children suffer because he can’t be with four people at the same time, and in the mornings the children have to get themselves ready for school.
“They miss having their parents at the breakfast table with them. My condition also means that they cannot have friends round to play because it is too stressful for me.”
Natarli said the biggest challenge for Ian and the children is coping with her bipolar.
“The severe depression I suffer can make me very hard to live with, I can become aggressive and can’t be reasoned with – it affects the whole family,” she said.
“The group sessions are so important to my children. My nine-year-old loves them because she says it’s the only place where she doesn’t feel alone. She won’t talk to others at school because she says that no-one understand her there.”
WNC is dedicated to helping all family carers. If you are a carer and would like to find out more about the support available, contact 01553 768155 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.westnorfolkcarers.org.uk
“WNC has also helped Ian a lot. He talks much more now because he has somewhere to go to get support, especially when he has had a bad week. They also give support and advice almost immediately, which is not the case with other service providers.”
• There are more than 6.5 million carers in the UK today – one in 10 of us.
• Over the next 30 years, the number of carers is expected to increase by 3.4 million (around 60 per cent).
• Of the 5.4 million carers in England alone, 166,363 are children (aged up to 18).
• Unpaid carers save the government £119 million a year.
• 45 per cent of carers have given up work to care.
• 61 per cent of carers have faced depression because of their caring role.
• 49 per cent of carers are struggling financially because of their caring role.
• The number of people aged over 85 in the UK, the age group most likely to need care, is expected to increase by over 50 per cent to 1.9 million over the next decade.