Almost half of family carers regularly deal with abusive behaviour while looking after a loved one, it has emerged.
More than a third (35%) of carers constantly deal with verbal and emotional abuse and 32% routinely deal with physical aggression and violence.
The report from Family Carers Ireland that supports 355,000 family carers shines a light on a hidden aspect of care-giving seldom discussed.
“Consideration must be given to the consequences on a person's health when caring and abuse are combined,” it states.
Family Carers Ireland's head of communications, Catherine Cox, said the report showed the enormous price paid by family carers who prop up the health system at great personal cost.
“Family carers save the State at least €10bn a year by caring for their loved ones at home. This study outlines the terrible price of the love,” she said.
Called Paying the Price: The Hidden Impacts of Caring, the report is based on a wellbeing survey completed by 1,102 family carers between November 2018 and January 2019.
It found that almost six out of 10 (57%) of those experiencing physical and verbal abuse (44%) were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of carers dealing with physically abusive behaviour reported a physical ill diagnosis.
However, 70% at risk of abuse are unable to take a break because there is no suitable respite care for their loved one.
Despite the risks of abuse, 80% of carers dealing with physical and/or verbal abuse have not received any training to manage challenging behaviours.
Many of the carers surveyed want to learn about managing challenging behaviours, both to protect themselves and their loved ones during a violent outburst.
A mother caring full-time for her child wrote: “How can I keep doing this day after day? I'm so tired I feel like I'll drive off the road...I'm afraid he will seriously hurt me.
"I need help for when he is aggressive – some sort of self-protection training.”
Another mother wrote:
“We've been waiting 18 weeks for an urgent assessment for my son who is often verbally and physically abusive to me, his dad and young siblings. This is after we waited over four years for an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis.”
The report recommends that healthcare professionals are trained to identify and support carers vulnerable to harm early in their caring role.
Healthcare professionals can offer carers an assessment of their own needs, including an assessment of safeguarding needs.
Carers should also be offered training that can help them understand and manage harmful behaviours and difficult situations.
As well as providing emergency respite care services as short notice, all of the agencies who play a role in safeguarding should be involved.
Also, more research and public discussion on the impact of physical and verbal abuse on family cares is key to recognising carers as victims of abuse and developing effective interventions to allow them to care safely.
The study is a collaboration between Family Carers Ireland, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and University College Dublin's School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems.