EACH day in the UK 6,000 people take on an unpaid caring role. The number of these carers looking after an older, disabled or seriously ill loved one is rising faster than the general population.

At the last census (2011) there were more than 6.5 million in the UK providing care for others and in Worcestershire the figure was 63,000. This unpaid caring has been estimated to be worth £132 million nationally.

This week is national Carers Week and the Worcestershire Association of Carers, which currently supports 11,000 local carers, hopes many of those hidden carers will come forward to find out about support available to them.

A spokesman for the association said: “Our carers look after and support those with mental ill health, physical disabilities, substance misuse, addiction, various illnesses such as cancer and dementia, as well as those struggling with age, ill health and frailty.”

Anyone wanting to find out more about support available to carers can call the association on 0300 012 4272 Mon-Fri: 9am to 7pm and Sat: 9am to 12 noon or visit https://www.carersworcs.org.uk/

According to a new survey conducted for Carers Week, carers have worse health than the general public and carers providing 50 hours or more a week of care are more than twice as likely to be in bad health as non-carers.

And Carers UK says more than three million people juggle care with work, however the significant demands of caring mean that one in five carers are forced to give up work altogether.

The Carers Week charities are Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, MS Society and Which?

Heléna Herklots CBE, on behalf of Carers Week, said: “The Carers Week charities seek to raise awareness of the huge contribution that carers are making every day to the lives of the family and friends they support and to their communities.

“In Carers Week we’re calling on the public, government and all parts of society to play their part in supporting carers by helping to build communities that recognise and understand the value and needs of carers.

“From hospitals that provide discounts for carers in their cafés, or workplaces that give employees paid leave for caring; to offering to shop for a friend who struggles to get out of the house, there are hundreds of small changes we can make to ensure our communities become more carer friendly.

“As a society we depend on unpaid carers – it’s time we had a plan for how to better recognise and support them.”

Two carers, both from Worcester tell their stories of being a carer.

Sue Gaca, from Worcester, noticed her husband was having increasing numbers of memory lapses. They attended a memory clinic where her husband underwent a series of tests after which a doctor told them he had vascular dementia and she was now his carer.

“I couldn’t believe it and found the whole notion scary. Struggling to believe what we’d been told I sought a second opinion. This time the doctor diagnosed my husband as having Alzheimer’s.

“I now turned my mind to being a carer. Clearly there was no manual to tell you how to do this so to begin with I taught myself through trial and error.

“Things became more challenging. I was increasingly having to explain things again and again to both my husband and others. For instance I realised that there was little point in asking my husband to get a plate from the cupboard as he was no longer sure what either a plate or a cupboard was anymore. The constant cycle of explaining and re-explaining wears you down after a while.

“I’d feel physically exhausted too, for instance through helping my husband get in and out of the shower every day. Thankfully a small circle of friends stuck with us and took turns to sit with my husband in order to give me the time to get all my other tasks and errands done.

“My GP recommended that I meet with the worker from Worcestershire Association of Carers (WAC) linked to the surgery. She was a mine of information, signposting me to all of the relevant services.

“I participated in the Caring with Confidence course. I got so much from being able to talk to other carers such as reassurance that I was taking the right approach to everyday practicalities and suggestions for things that I could try to deal with specific situations.

“The biggest lesson I learned was that I needed to give myself permission to have a life as well. In time I came to realise that allowing others to help made me more (not less) effective as a carer.

“I was a carer for around four years. My husband’s condition deteriorated to the extent that he’s now in a care home. While I can’t deny that being a carer was challenging, it also gave me the confidence to do things that I never thought possible from DIY projects to feeling able to discuss care options with clinicians in an informed manner.

“I have even given a presentation to 60 trainee GPs. I feel passionate about doing my bit to ensure that all of this knowledge I’ve acquired is passed on to the next generation.”

When Jim Smith, from Worcester, was just 19 his mum suddenly developed mental health problems and he became her carer. “There was absolutely no warning that this might happen. Mum started to have psychotic episodes.

“None of the other members of my family were involved in her care – it was all left to me. I felt angry, isolated and afraid. I simply did not know where to go to for help other than to our GP. I knew next to nothing about how to access health and social services and, at 19 years old, probably didn’t have the skills to be able to ask for help.

“Instead I tried to deal with everything myself. I’d talk with her constantly about her problems, trying everything I could think of to halt the same spiral of thought that would go around in her head. I tried in vain to absorb all of her fears.

“After around 18 months Mum was sectioned. I felt immense guilt even though I now recognise that there was nothing more that I could have done. In time, her treatment proved effective and Mum made a full recovery but in the years that followed she repeatedly apologised to me for asking so much of me when I was so young.

“Twenty years later I was in the process of applying for a job at Worcestershire Association of Carers (WAC). As I researched my application I suddenly realised for the first time that I had been a carer all those years ago. I shared my thoughts with Mum. She said she’d known that for years. Talking it through with her in this way felt like a healing process. We finally had closure on this period in our lives. I told Mum that there was no need to apologise any more.

“My experiences as a carer gave me greater self-confidence and strength of mind. I’m better equipped to cope with my own life and the lives of others. I understand who I am and can recognise my breaking points – and know where to go to ask for help if I reach them. Above all, I have learned to hold carers in great respect.”