WHEN Lynn Cochrane describes the loneliness of being a carer, the sad irony is that she is far from alone.

Among the many awful knock-on consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps the most worrying is the mental health epidemic that continues to spread largely unseen across our communities.

Yet the feeling of isolation with which we all became familiar during lockdown has long been an issue for the silent army of unpaid carers, estimated to number more than 700,000 across Scotland and around 10,000 in West Dunbartonshire.

The past year has only intensified their sense of being cut off from the outside world as many support services were reduced or halted completely in compliance with Covid protocols.

But crucially for Lynn, who cares for her 83-year-old father, one source of support remained constant throughout lockdown.

Now Lynn and a handful of people in similar situations have taken to YouTube to spread the word that the Carers of West Dunbartonshire charity is here to help.

At the heart of their awareness campaign, “The Place For Every Carer To Turn To”, is a series of videos explaining through the voices of carers the wide range of support they receive from the organisation.

Lynn’s story, released this week, is the latest – and her searingly honest words will resonate with many people who have struggled with the loneliness of lockdown.

Lynn said: “Because of the current situation my mental health and physical health are not good at all.

“I don’t have a social life any more. I haven’t seen my friends since last December.

“I go out for one hour a week for my shopping – and even then I do it at a quiet time because I can’t take any chances of bringing anything home to Dad.

“I have to protect my dad as much as possible because he has asbestosis and Alzheimer’s.”

Lynn has looked after her father for the last seven years, having initially returned to Clydebank to nurse her mother through the last weeks of her struggle with cancer.

She explains it was the local GP who recommended she reach out to Carers of West Dunbartonshire – and she firmly believes that the practical and emotional support that they have provided from the beginning has been the lifeline that keeps her going.

Lynn added: “This isn’t the first time I’ve been caring.

“I was widowed 25 years ago and I nursed my husband at home through the last eight weeks of his life with no support whatsoever – because there was nothing in those days. No counselling when he passed and no help at home as I nursed him.

“So I was astounded when the doctor told me about Carers of West Dunbartonshire and the help that they give you.

“Their support has been invaluable, I can’t stress how much I needed their help as I was in a unique position. I left Clydebank nearly 40 years ago so I didn’t know anyone when I came back to help look after my mother when she was dying of cancer.

“Shortly after that, my dad went rapidly downhill - and with no other family or friends, it was me and dad against the world.

“The carers have become my lifeline now because I go to their clubs and days out. We have great information seminars. My care support worker phones me all the time and I know that I can always pick up the phone to her.

“Most of all, I have made friends (with other carers). The biggest thing is to be with people who understand you.

“Before lockdown we’d have days out once a month during the summer like going to the Kelpies or Callander and having that sense of freedom was wonderful.

“With all that being stopped just now it’s hard. I miss seeing everyone.

“But we have quizzes on Zoom on a Friday night and some days we have a virtual coffee morning and that is making me feel I’m getting my friends back again.

“Things will change in the world but also in your personal circumstances, and when it happens you need the right people to guide and support you.

“So if people suddenly find themselves in a caring role I’d urge them to contact the Carers Centre.

“Having Carers of West Dunbartonshire there to help me is amazing. They are such wonderful people who will do anything for you to help make life easier.

“They are my lifeline.”

Lynn’s sentiments are echoed by Steven Rocks, a Clydebank single parent looking after his three children, who between them live with XYY Syndrome, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

While maintaining the upkeep of the family home and daily routine, Steven cares for his children on a full-time basis.

Steven said: “My caring role is 24/7. My 18-year-old sons have XYY Syndrome, who have a mental age of around eight or nine years old.

“They need to be escorted everywhere – to college, doctor’s appointments, that sort of thing.

“I’m awake during the night to care for my children so I’ll sleep with one eye open, and at times I feel emotional and stressed. However, I’m also a parent – it’s my job.”

While facing the challenges of his caring role, Steven has found help and support with Carers of West Dunbartonshire over the last 10 years,

He added: “They’ve been phenomenal. I’ve been given information on benefits I’m entitled to, I’ve had short breaks and respite with their help and I’ve taken part in support groups where I get to meet people who are in similar situations.

“I’ll get regular calls to see how I’m doing, and it’s amazing to know someone is thinking about me.

“I always thought I didn’t need any help because I’m a man, but after some time of being on my own, I was drained.

“Once I picked up the phone, the help I received from Carers of West Dunbartonshire was amazing. They’re there to help you, so pick up the phone.”

*If you or someone you know is a carer, and you think Carers of West Dunbartonshire could help, call 0141 941 1550 or visit carerswd.org for more information.