Are MEN who care for other people carers?

If so, why are so many reluctant to say so?

Caring, and the sense of looking after a sick, disabled or vulnerable relative or friend is a role traditionally associated with women.

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We think of mothers caring for their disabled children, often for long after they stop being children and start being adults. Or the term "carer" may suggest an older woman looking after elderly parents or a husband in poor health.

In fact, a survey published by the Carers' Trust Scotland (CTS) today suggests we may need to revise our assumptions.

It claims well approaching one half (44 per cent) of Scotland's unpaid carers are male, based on finding from the Scottish Health Survey. This means around 420,000 Scottish men and boys look after a friend or relative who is sick, disabled, frail or suffers from mental health or addiction problems.

However, many do not identify with the label of "carer". For those involved in providing services to carers and campaigning for more support, this may induce a sense of deja vu.

It isn't so long since I was reporting on the number of women carers not receiving any help or even recognition for their efforts.

Increasingly, there is an acknowledgement of the contribution such carers make, and a degree of help on offer, though many would argue it is still not enough.

But men, according to the new study, are still reluctant to seek such assistance or even claim the title of "carer". The report: Husband,Dad, Son, Boyfriend, Carer? from CTS and the Mens Health Forum found that more than one quarter of those who had caring roles would not "come out" as carers at work.

This is despite the fact that more than half said they were struggling to balance work and caring, with those who were their family's main earner finding it hardest.

The survey found 40 per cent said their own health had been compromised by their caring role, while 45 per cent already had a long-term disability or illness of their own to contend with. Some 44 per cent said the pressures of caring were harming their own mental health.

The unexpectedness of finding a male in a caring role made things harder. One told researchers: "It is often expected of a daughter or granddaughter to provide care, whereas a male relative is often thought of as a wage earner."

Tommy, 80, from East Renfrewshire, told researchers this was particularly difficult. "For some men, caring doesn't come very naturally. They were the breadwinners and typical 'men of the house'. Having to stop work and look after the home, all while being devastated that their partner was ill was a huge adjustment and something I saw a lot of men struggle with," he said of those he met at an all-male support group.

Such specific supports could well be helpful. No-one is suggesting that male carers are more in need of assistance than their female counterparts. But unemployed men say caring leaves them particularly isolated, while those with jobs feel unable to talk about it.