The big reveal
Last week a group of young carers and young adult carers spoke in the Houses of Parliament. They talked about a subject that had never been covered in this type of discussion. The subject is probably a really familiar one for anyone who works with young carers but it is not really known by the general public – the mental health of young carers.
Carers Trust was invited to bring together a group of young carers and young adult carers to talk to MPs and Peers about mental health. The event was held as a joint session of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Carers.
A group of young carers and young adult carers led the session. They spoke passionately about the need for better support for the mental health of young carers.
One young carer quoted a favourite film- Shrek- to describe young carers as like an onion. In different situations, such as at school, at their young adult carers’ group and at home they felt they revealed different layers. At school they were able to act just like other young people but not talk about particularly personal subjects. With their family they could talk about some personal things but not everything. With their group of friends who were also young adult carers they could share difficult feelings about being a carer. They could get support in different ways and sometimes feel more themselves. Yet this young carer revealed that at their core they were suffering badly and their mental health was a real concern. Support needed to reach young carers in that situation, despite all the layers that protected them and helped them to cope in the short term. There should also be wider change so that young carers were not pushed too far by managing huge amounts of caring responsibilities without anyone to turn to. The pressure was often increased by the feeling that by taking it all on themselves they protected a younger sibling.
The young carer said that their mental health was something they had hardly discussed before but they were explaining it now because they wanted the MPs and Peers to understand how important it was that support improved urgently.
Based on the evidence out there, Carers Trust believe that young carers have worse mental health than other young people without caring roles. Our conclusion is that we need to make sure that more people know that a child’s mental health can be at risk when caring roles get to be too much. That means several important groups of people need to be much more aware of this problem and to take action.
The crucial, but difficult, step is that the politicians setting government policy and allocating budgets to services should be aware of the impact on young carers’ mental health when services for them and their families fall short. While superficially it can seem that services are able to pare back what they do and save money, young carers can be picking up the pieces with an impact on their mental health in the process. More funding is needed for social care services so that support can be offered to people with a range of care needs. Otherwise someone else will be doing it instead and that can often be a young carer.
There are also other smaller ways that will help young carers get access to the services that improve their mental health. Local young carer services and mental health services can work together to improve whole-family support for young carers and their families. Schools can take steps to identify young carers early and offer them support as part of their role to address pupils’ wellbeing. The government’s Future in Mind policy provides opportunities to embed young carers’ needs into local plans. The commissioning of research into children’s mental health will improve what we know about the national picture of their mental health.
It is worrying that young carers are invisible and in distress but with the courageous words of young carers, such as those who spoke in parliament last week, I don’t think this issue can be ignored any longer.
Read the Carers Trust report – Invisible and in Distress: The Mental Health of England’s Young Carers.
Chloe Alexander is Policy & Campaigns Officer (Young Carers and Young Adult Carers)
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