Carers of children with disabilities “10 times more likely” to report mental health problems

Parents and carers looking after children with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to report mental health problems than adults without similar caring responsibilities, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Birmingham, is among the first to explore the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on carers of people with challenging disabilities, such as autism.

The report – which comes ahead of the second national lockdown – shows that parents and carers with these types of responsibilities were “five times more likely to report severe anxiety” and “between four and 10 times more likely to report major depression” compared to other parents.

The researchers attribute these alarming findings to the distinct challenges faced by carers during the coronavirus lockdown, such as autistic children falling out of their established routine.

The study also reveals that, despite their greater needs, carers of children with intellectual disabilities received “significantly less support from other sources, particularly family and friends”. Meanwhile, the closure of adult day services and respite care meant that this group felt they had “significantly less support than carers of children, who could still send their children to school if they wished”.

Commenting on the paper, study author Professor Paul Willner said: “It is likely from these data that the mental health of carers of children and adults with intellectual disability has been adversely affected by the pandemic. This effect is over and above any pre-existing mental health problems.

“They are also affected to a greater extent than parents of people without disabilities but are less well supported.  Our findings are one illustration of how the pandemic has amplified existing inequalities.”

Publishing the paper, the authors are calling on policymakers to ensure that carers are “appropriately and proactively supported”.

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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