UK’s “sandwich” generation plagued by poor mental health

People looking after both children and poorly relatives are likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, finds the ONS.

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More than a quarter of people caring for other relatives as well as their own children experience poor mental health, a survey by the Office for National statistics (ONS) has found.

The ONS reported that some 27 per cent of so-called “sandwich carers” – people with dependent children who also look after sick, disabled or elderly family members – are likely to display symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. The ONS said that the majority of sandwich carers tend to be women and aged 35 to 54. 

With life expectancy in the United Kingdom on the rise and with women more often having their first child at an older age, around 1.3m people (approximately three per cent of the population) now bear this “twin responsibility”.

The ONS found that a third of sandwich carers were “just about getting by” financially. Worrying about finances has been highlighted by the NHS as a leading cause of stress and depression.

One in ten of the 34,000 people surveyed by the ONS said they were “finding it difficult” or “very difficult” when it came to managing their money. And just 17 per cent said they were “living comfortably”, compared to the national average of 32 per cent.

Hugh Stickland, the ONS’s head of strategy and engagement, said: “The wellbeing of sandwich carers is varied, with parents who spend less than five hours a week looking after older, sick or disabled relatives seeing slightly higher health and life satisfaction compared with the general population. However, those who spend more time caring show lower levels of health and life satisfaction, and are more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety.”

As well as highlighting a lack of “leisure time”, 41 per cent of sandwich carers said that they were unable to hold down regular paid work. Women – who account for 68 per cent of sandwich carers, providing 20 hours of adult care each week – are more likely to feel “restricted” than men. Nearly half of the women surveyed felt unable to work as much as they wanted to, compared to 35 per cent of men.

Helen Walker, chief executive of the charity Carers UK, said sandwich careers were “time-poor and stressed”, adding that it is “vital” that the UK government commits more funding to adult social care programmes in its upcoming Green Paper. She called for “better support for older and disabled people, giving the sandwich generation the ability to better manage work and caring responsibilities”.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman