Caring for the carers

21 May 2019

Carers are an integral part of Australia and New Zealand's health system and are the foundation of our aged, disability, palliative, and community care systems. Australia has over 2.7 million carers, approximately 12% of the population and New Zealand has 430,000 carers, about 10% of the population, however, this number may not represent the true number of carers. Many people in caring roles do not identify as carers and as such are often not linked to services and support that can assist them. Chances are, you personally are a carer, need a carer or know a carer.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘carer’ as A family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person. It can be anyone, including children and adults who look after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem, or addiction, and cannot cope without their support. Defining the word carer can be challenging because some family and friends may not consider themselves as a ‘carer’ - they may see their carer role as simply being a supportive partner, father, sister, son, or friend.

A carer role may be something that one takes on gradually, supporting a person more and more as their health or ability to care for themselves diminishes over time. Sometimes a care role comes about suddenly, such as after an accident or after a health crisis like a stroke or heart attack.

Carers provide emotional and social support and can assist someone to be as independent and as healthy as possible through helping them stay connected to their local community, or to be physically and mentally active. Some carers may help someone with tasks like shopping, paying bills, housework, and providing transport. Others may have a more intensive care role assisting with bathing, dressing, and eating.

While each caring situation is different, many carers share similar experiences, which is why support services for carers exist and are so important. These services assist carers in their daily lives and aim to improve their health, wellbeing, resilience, and financial security. They also work directly with carers and the government, businesses and other community organisations to improve services, systems, and supports. The aid these organisations provide also extends to connecting carers to a wide range of services, including counselling, funding support, respite, education, and training. 

Carers Australia is an organisation that provides support for carers and has offices in all capital cities and regional areas. They work to ensure that caring is a shared responsibility of family, community and government and want to support carers, making their lives better. Their vision is an Australia that values and supports all carers, as shown in these stories:

“Until April last year I didn’t identify as a young carer, I’ve just grown up with my siblings, helping them out and being there for them, I didn’t realise that what I was doing was caring. I now know that there is support available to me and other young carers. Meeting other young carers has also made me realise that I’m not so different to other people my age and that there are lots of people who have grown up caring for their family and friends – sometimes without even knowing it.” Nick

“I attended a Dementia Carers Support Group. The information I received and the friendship I experienced at the support group was so valuable, something I will never forget.” Elizabeth

“I use the services of Carers Victoria, who provide me with 10 entirely free psychology sessions a year. I can't tell you how much this has been appreciated over the last few years with my husband chronically ill and ongoing health issues with my kids, in particular, my youngest. They also offer other services such as training, respite, etc. They are seriously gold for any carer.” Kari

Carers NZ is a non-profit organisation supporting carers nationwide in New Zealand and works closely with emerging national support networks for whānau carers, Pasifika carers, and new settlers. They provide information, advice, learning and support to help carers have a strong voice in health and service decision-making.

For more information about carers support services in your area, go to:




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