At the moment, there seem to be a lot of days and weeks dedicated to raising awareness of various issues (or celebrating donuts), encouraging people to share their stories and tag their friends. But how much awareness can be raised before it all fizzles into a blur of "share this", "read that" and "use this obscure hashtag please"?
This week is carers week. I think it's important to highlight this because carers are amazing. They are hidden heroes who care for loved ones day and night, often without a break or a holiday away from these responsibilities.
There are almost seven million carers in the UK of all ages, genders and ethnicities and that number is rising: at some point in their life, three in five people are likely to be a carer. Currently, about 700,000 of these carers are young people - children and teenagers who are caring for a parent, sibling or someone else every single day. Though many of these children wouldn't wish to lose this responsibility entirely, because they love the person they're caring for, it can mean that they lose aspects of their childhood; time that should be spent playing with friends or being a kid is spent instead shouldering more responsibility than any adult could reasonably ask of a child.
You can't tell that someone is a carer by looking. They often go unnoticed, quietly getting on with things. Many might not even recognise themselves as carers, so their friends and family are almost certainly not going to pick up on it. Despite the lack of recognition, they carry on every single day; administering medication, completing personal care, cooking, washing, cleaning, and more. All of these things would cost a fortune if a care worker had to be employed to do them, but carers do them every day with no regular wage (apart from potentially some carer's allowance). Unlike a paid worker, there's no annual leave, no bank holidays, and no TOIL. Carers save our country huge amounts of money by simply loving and caring for a family member or friend.
My Dad is a carer - he cares for Mum. We're lucky in that Mum is relatively independent at the moment, she can do most things herself. But she still needs help here and there, and that's where Dad comes in. Sometimes I imagine Mum finds it difficult to accept this help, because she's always been incredibly independent - imagine how frustrating it must be to realise that the simple things you've done yourself for your whole life, the smaller things you really take for granted, you now can't do without help.
I wouldn't class myself as a carer; I'm at university, so the only person I'm really looking after is me. I do worry about Mum, I keep in touch with everyone at home as best I can, and I'm forever waiting for the dreaded phone call, but I don't have any regular caring responsibilities.
When I'm home I try to help where I can: walk behind Mum when she's walking up the stairs, help her to reach things, cook and clean, other bits and bobs like that. But I don't see it as an 'extra' or 'caring' responsibility; I see it as part of family life. I imagine many people who are carers feel the same and that is why they so often go unnoticed.
Keep your eyes open this week (and beyond). If you know someone who is a carer, or you think someone you know might be a carer, make contact with them. It's hard to maintain friendships when your life revolves around medication charts and routine meal times. Invite them round for coffee, or go round to theirs. Ring them for a chat, drop them a Facebook message. Don't go overboard by any means, just initiate contact. It doesn't cost anything but will mean the world to someone who is tirelessly caring for someone they love.
Carers are incredible, they really are. They are hidden, hardworking and humble. Please try and notice them this week. Please reach out to them. If anyone deserves an hour of your time, it's them.