Carers Should be Screened for Depression say Doctors

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) estimates that as much as one in every twenty patients with a GP practice is providing unpaid care and it is thought that about 40% of carers are thought to be at risk of depression or stress because of their caring role.

The Carer’s Trust defines a carer as someone of any age who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help. This could be caring for a relative, partner or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or substance misuse problems.

It is estimated that about seven million people in the UK currently provide unpaid care to a sick or disabled child or adult saving the tax payer in the region of £119 billion annually. However according to the RCGP many of these people are not properly supported in this vital role.

The RCGP have drawn up a list of clinical commissioning groups – these are small groups of GPs that are involved in planning care at a local level – to put into place measures to ensure that carer’s mental health needs are taken into account. The have advised that a screening process for depression should involve “a small number of general, non-invasive questions about overall mood and mental well-being.”

Alice takes care of her husband Frank in their home in Liverpool. Frank has mild dementia and long term chest problems “Sometimes I feel so isolated and down, I do not get many visitors and nobody rings so I can spend all day talking to nobody apart from Frank. Conversations with Frank are often difficult as he does not always remember what we are talking about. My sister tells me to go and see my GP and get some help – she may well be right.”

Dr Clare Gerada, chairperson of the RCGPs says ‘Carers often neglect their own healthcare needs and in many cases it is only a matter of time before they themselves become ill. GPs can play a crucial role in identifying potential problems in the early stages and screening for depression is something that many GPS are already doing. Commissioners need to invest in supporting carers as a critical asset. They already save the public purse £119bn a year and this initiative could save even more by ensuring that carers stay well enough to keep on caring.”

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