Being a carer during the pandemic


There is an estimated 6 million carers in the UK, many looking after a friend or loved one with a physical or mental disability or just someone who needs that additional support. In this special blog for Carers Week, Paul reflects on being a carer during the pandemic.

Paul Marsh, 66 has been married to Julie, 62, for over 40 years. In the early years of their marriage, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Paul was working, and while his job was stressful, it meant he could support Julie and their young family.

Paul later decided to retire, partly so he could take better care of Julie as she was struggling to manage her mental illness. His experiences as a carer also motivated him to support a range of different initiatives for people living with mental illness and their carers. He was a member of the Canterbury and Coastal Rethink Mental Illness Carers Support Group for five years, and in 2020, became a joint coordinator of it.

Reflecting on life before the pandemic, Paul said: “My wife is herself a very caring person. She encourages me to take time out and have a break by planning activities she knows that I enjoy, like fishing and cycling with family and friends. This is so important for my well-being. We are fortunate to own a motorhome and since my retirement, when my wife is well, we take short breaks and enjoy different scenery together.”

The past year of the pandemic and the restrictions proved difficult, though. “They have prevented us from being able to take breaks and we’ve only managed one short trip away. It has had a very negative impact on us both. My wife has remained in contact with her friends and virtual social activities arranged by a local choir and her church which has been a lifeline to her. However, both of our local carer groups have been unable to meet because of restrictions and I have not benefitted from my usual stress release valve or had the opportunity of supporting others.”

An added strain has been the lack of meaningful engagement and timely access to mental health professionals to reassess the efficacy of Julie’s medication. Over the years, it’s been important to tweak this to mitigate the length of periods and balance of highs and lows. “This has left us both feeling powerless. It is still unresolved and frustrating.”

Yet Paul remains optimistic: “I am determined that the hiatus brought about by the pandemic will be overcome and as soon as our local carers group can meet, we will resume our activities including a new ‘Cycle, Walk and Talk’ initiative for our members to once again supporting one another.”

If you are a carer and would like to know more about the support groups in your area, please visit the groups section of our website.