Young Carers & Mental Health
Read on to learn about being a young carer (aged 0-25), challenges that they may face, tips for adults who support young carers, and where to find support.
What is a young carer?
A young carer is someone who is under 18 years old who cares for a family member or friend who cannot cope without their support. This could be due to an illness or disability, mental health difficulties, or addiction or substance misuse.
A young adult carer is someone aged 18-25 who also cares for another person (e.g. a relative), but they may have different support needs to carers who are under 18.
Young carers and young adult carers undertake a range of tasks as part of their support for the person(s) they are caring for. This might include things such as:
- Doing the food shopping
- Cooking and cleaning
- Managing medication or money
- Providing personal care (e.g. helping the person wash themselves)
- Helping the person(s) to get out the house
- Giving emotional support
Watch the video below to learn more about what a young carer is!
What challenges can young carers face?
Being a young carer can involve a lot of challenges, due to the extra responsibility during day-to-day life. It may feel like others can't understand, or you may feel like you shouldn't be struggling with this. Remember: it's OK to not be OK, and you are not alone.
Some examples could be:
- Not having time to socialise (e.g. with friends after school)
- Feeling guilty or worrying most of the time
- Having to 'grow up' more quickly than others
- Feeling overwhelmed and stressed
- Having to juggle a lot of responsibilities at once
- Education or work affecting your home routine (e.g. worrying about getting detention because you need to be home on time to give medication to your cared for person)
- Experiencing mental health difficulties (e.g. anxiety or low mood)
- Worrying about money or your home
Am I a young carer?
Sometimes a young person may not realise they are a young carer for a long time, which means they don't get the right support as early as they need. By raising awareness of how to identify a young carer, we can help young carers get help more quickly. Take a look at these examples and see if any apply to you:
Being a young carer can also be a rewarding experience, that helps you develop new skills, learn more about yourself and others, and connect with a community of other young carers! Remember: all young carers are unique, and your experience is always valid.
How can I look after my wellbeing as a young carer?
It can be hard to realise when you need help, especially if you are usually focused on someone else's wellbeing, but everyone deserves to feel safe and supported. Read on to learn more about mental health difficulties we can experience, and how to find support.
What is anxiety?
We all feel anxious at times, and anxiety is our body’s way of coping with difficult situations. Our brain automatically responds to things that seem dangerous or scary, and the response is intended to keep us safe from harm. If your anxiety is getting in the way of your day-to-day life, or feels overwhelming, click here to find further support.
Signs that anxiety is getting out of control can be:
- You have started avoiding people or places because you feel anxious
- The anxiety feels very strong and like it’s taking over your life
- You are experiencing symptoms of panic attacks (heart pounding, breathlessness, feeling like you’re going to faint) on a regular basis
- You feel anxious about things that didn’t make you feel anxious before (e.g. getting out of bed or walking to school)
What is low mood?
We all experience our mood going up and down, and lots of things can affect our mood. This can include hormones, life changes, relationships, and stress. As a young carer, you may feel low due to worrying about the person you care for, or due to missing out on socialising because of your caring responsibilities. If you are feeling sad most of the time and it feels like it’s becoming overwhelming, click here to find further support.
Some signs that you might need some support are:
- You’re struggling to do things you normally do because they feel too difficult (e.g. getting out of bed or taking a shower)
- You feel a strong sense of sadness or hopelessness
- You are crying more often than usual
- You feel numb or disconnected from people around you
- You’re eating a lot more or less than usual
- You are having thoughts of hurting yourself or wanting to die
These are just a few examples of how anxiety and low mood can be experienced. We all experience things in different ways, and everyone deserves to get the support they need. To find support for mental health difficulties such as anger, stress, loneliness, and grief, go to our Feelings Page to explore our modules. You can also learn about neurodiversity, relationships and mental health, learning disabilities, and more.
Watch the video below to hear from young people sharing their experiences of realising they were a young carer, and how to get support.
If you think someone you know may be a young carer:
Are you a young person and you think someone you know (e.g. a friend) might be a young carer? Or are you a professional, and you think a young person you’re working with could be a carer? Here are some ways you can help:
- Listen without judgement if they want to talk about how they’re feeling
- Ask if they have thought about if they might be a young carer; a lot of young carers don’t realise on their own!
- If you are a young person: help them speak to a trusted adult (e.g. a teacher) who can help them find further support
- If you are a professional: if suitable, you can make a referral to your local council. If the young person already has a Family Support Worker or Social Worker, you can contact them to make this referral (or find out if one is already in progress)
How to Get Support
There's lots of ways to find support, and you are not alone. Read on to find out where you can access support if you are a young carer, and ways to refer someone else if they are a carer.
Where can I find support?
There are lots of ways you can find support, and it's OK to ask for help. Here are some ways you can start the process of finding support:
- Speak to a teacher or pastoral team at your school/college about how you’re feeling
- If you have a Social Worker or Family Support Worker, speak to them about making a young carer’s referral
- If your referral is accepted, you may be able to access support groups with other young carers in your local area
- Find self-help online – there are lots of websites offering free resources and information, including the links below!
Social group for young carers aged 16-19:
Carers Support 'My Future' Groups - social group support for young carers aged 16-19
The Mix - information and support for young people under 25 years old
West Sussex Mind - mental health support for young people aged 16-25
Caring Together app - support service information, self-help advice, and wellbeing tips for young carers
How can support services help me?
Support services for young carers can offer support in lots of different ways, depending on you and your family's needs. Some ways they can help you as a young carer are:
- arranging therapeutic support (e.g. counselling)
- providing positive respite opportunities
- giving you the chance to have a break
- encouraging you to connect with other young carers
- helping you understand more about your situation (e.g. the health condition your cared for person has)
- giving support through Volunteer Mentors during tricky times (e.g. when moving from primary to secondary school)
How can services help my family?
Along with giving you direct support, young carer services can also provide support for your family and the person(s) you care for. This is often through connecting with other services or professionals, such as Occupational Therapists or benefit advisors. Some examples of ways they can help are:
- Providing support to get equipment or adaptations at home
- Advising about getting the right benefits
- Applying for Blue Badges and other accessibility permits
- Organising a Housing Needs Assessment if your home isn't suitable for your family's care needs
- Arranging for practical support in the home
- Connect your wider support network (e.g. other relatives, friends, or neighbours) to offer help where possible
- Creating an Emergency Plan (if required)
Getting a Referral
Each referral for young carer support depends on your individual needs, and the needs of the person you care for. The process differs depending on whether you are a young carer (under 18) or a young adult carer (aged 18-25).
The referral can either be made on your behalf by a trusted adult such as a parent or family member, teacher, social worker, or a charity, or you can refer yourself (if you are under 18, you will need parent/guardian consent for the referral to go through.)
As mentioned above, there are lots of ways that support services can help you and your family, and the services want to give you the best possible help!
Scroll down to find some examples of the referral process for young carers and young adult carers!
PLEASE NOTE: this information is based on the referral processes in West Sussex. The referral process may be different if you live in another area.
If you are a young carer or young adult carer and you're struggling with your mental health, you are not alone and support is out there. You can find help in your local area by clicking below.