Opinions

Young Carers and Mental Health

Written by: Heather Noller, Parliamentary and Policy Officer, Carers Trust

Published: 23/03/2017

Heather writes for us on experiences and perceptions of young carers across Scotland.

Young people’s mental health and wellbeing is a (deservedly) hot topic, and young carers in particular are known to experience isolation, stress, stigma, and other issues that can lead to poor mental health.

The 9th Scottish Young Carers Festival was held in August 2016, and as well as providing an opportunity for hundreds of young carers across Scotland to have a break from caring, make friends and have fun, it was the beginning of a piece of research undertaken by Carers Trust Scotland, the Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner in Scotland. Fieldwork for the research took place over the autumn of 2016 and findings were launched last month. This research was the first in the UK to compare the experiences and perceptions of young carers against a comparable sample of young people who were not carers, giving an idea of the impact of a young person’s caring role on their health and wellbeing.

The research found that, as might be expected, young carers with the highest levels of caring responsibilities were more likely to have negative feelings about their caring roles, such as feeling stressed or lonely. Young carers with heavy caring roles were also more likely to have physical and psychological symptoms of stress such as headaches, low mood and irritability. On a more cheering note, there were also many positive feelings expressed by young carers about their caring roles. The positive aspects of what young carers do can often by overlooked by the professionals who help and support them, so it’s good to see some evidence of how the skills and responsibility of being a young carer can be beneficial.

However, it’s important to realise that as caring responsibilities can fluctuate over a young carer’s life, and that it’s not always easy to spot when a young carer will need the most help and support. This is why it’s continually important for all services in contact with young carers, including healthcare services and education, to ensure that they can identify young carers who may be struggling and signpost them to support.

The value of young carer services was clear from the research, showing that being able to talk to someone who really listens and understands their situation is important to coping, as well as having time away from caring to do fun things, such as attending young carers’ groups or pursue hobbies. A great aspect of the Scottish Young Carers Festival is how it brings together young carers from all over Scotland into an environment where they can meet new people and make friends with the knowledge that they get what it’s like to be a young carer. There’s no need to hide the realities of their lives, worrying that their peers won’t understand.

Although one of the main points of this study was to compare the mental health and wellbeing of young carers with those who don’t have caring responsibilities, it has also clearly demonstrated that young carers are not a homogenous group and have differing needs. It might depend on the level of care they provide and their own personal resilience but we must make sure that they are supported by ensuring resources are targeted at those who care the most. We’re looking forward to the new mental health strategy later in 2017 and its commitment to ensuring that there is appropriate support for all children and young people.

We’re already planning the 10th Scottish Young Carers Festival and aiming for it to be bigger and better than ever. For more information about the Festival or Carers Trust Scotland, please contact scotland@carers.org.

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