It is estimated that there are at least 700,000 young carers in the UK. Young carers look after parents, siblings or other family members and often handle a huge undertaking of tasks ranging from personal care like dressing and washing, to household chores, managing family finances, to arranging health care and benefits.
Young Carers in Lockdown
During lockdown, many young carers have lost the support and respite that they would normally receive. Young people who may not have been carers before are now supporting newly ill family members or helping parents to manage childcare as schools are closed. In this post, I’ll be sharing my experiences and tips for young carers for handling difficult emotions at this time.
Getting through lockdown in the constant company of family members is tough. But for young carers like me, it’s even tougher. Being a young carer can be difficult to talk about openly – but can be even more difficult if you’re supporting a parent with a drug and alcohol problem or mental health problem, which many young people do.
For different health reasons, I had to start caring for both my parents when I was nine, doing physical tasks as well as providing emotional support. At eighteen, this is a role I am still fulfilling now.
Over time, I’ve learned to balance my home and college responsibilities, which has inspired me to find coping techniques and share them with others. As a recognised young carer, I was for several years a member of a Youth Council. Over the last few years we delivered a mental health awareness project for which I took a lead role; I also volunteered for a youth activity club for young carers. In addition, I currently work as a volunteer at my former secondary school, where I deliver GCSE Science practical workshops to Year 11 students; I help them prepare for exams and encourage them to apply to top universities.
I also became an Ambassador for the #iwill Campaign, which you can find out about here. I promote youth social action through events and on social media.
In writing this blog post, I wanted to share perspectives beyond my own. I reached out to other young carers in my local area of Yorkshire, and here is what they’re saying:
“My caring role is massive now, because I can’t leave the house. Dad asks me to do all sorts of things I never used to do.”
“The worst thing I have had to deal with in lockdown is feeling so lonely. Even though I am with my family, because Mum is constantly ill it feels like I am the only one who has to deal with it.”
“I have next to zero time to myself. I am just cleaning and cooking all the time. I can’t even get the shopping without having to queue for an hour just to get in!”
“I have never been this sad before. I just cry most days.”
As you can see – lockdown is hitting young carers pretty hard. Taking on responsibility for other people’s emotions and health, as well as our own is becoming unattainable. So how can we ease the strain on ourselves and our families?
I wanted to share some tips that are helping me, personally. I already know what you’re thinking… is he going to tell me to drink more water? Do those breathing techniques I’m sick of hearing about? Start a daily gratitude journal? The answer is no. Let’s run through some practical ways to overcome some of our more tricky emotions.
Tackling Low Mood as a Young Carer
A lot of young people are dealing with dips in their mood at the moment. The places that we went to for a rest or for fun, have all been closed. With every day blurring into the next, often your mood can drop off and stay low. For young carers dealing with extra pressure, this is even more likely to be the case.
What does an achievement look like to you? For me, it’s doing the washing up, making my bed or going through some flashcards. Despite what we might see on Instagram, an achievement doesn’t have to be climbing a mountain or “finding yourself” in a temple!
I’ve started writing ‘done’ lists. So, what even is a ‘done’ list? Well, the idea is that instead of creating a whopping to-do list that makes you feel frazzled at the thought of everything that you have ahead of you, you write down the positive things you’ve already done today. Be proud of what you’ve done so far, no matter how small. As a young carer, the chance is that you are doing more small things every day than most people your age.
Tackling Loneliness as a Young Carer
I’m not gonna tell you to spend more time with family as I’m sure you are having to spend enough time with them already. It’s not easy to offload onto the people that rely on you.
Pets can be a real comfort if you have one, and you might want to sneak them away from the rest of the family for a cuddle if you can. Haven’t got a pet? Don’t worry if not, I haven’t got one either. It can even work to have a stuffed animal somewhere visible in your bedroom as a bit of a mascot and a source of comfort. I’m a huge alpaca fan and was thrilled to visit an alpaca farm last summer. Since I can’t really keep one in my back garden, I opted for a stuffed one instead, and now he lives on my desk!
Tackling Anger as a Young Carer
Sometimes we get frustrated by having to deal with constant needs from family members. Holding in your frustration will only make it worse – but taking it out on someone won’t make life any easier.
It’s really quiet in my hometown, especially in fields, up on the cliffs and even at the end of my back garden. I find that just getting out for a walk in a quiet place can help me to get some headspace and let off some steam. You could even use this quiet space to shout or speak the things you want to say – you don’t have to be really loud if you’re nervous, just speaking your thoughts out loud really helps you let go of them.
These are just reflections from my own experience. If you want expert advice, you might want to look at these top tips from The Children’s Society, or their detailed advice on wellbeing. If you’re struggling to manage your emotions or mental health, or need support, you could check out Young Minds or The Mix.
While being a young carer has its challenges, I am doing all I can to reach out to other young carers in my area, as well as to look after myself and my family. I am full of hope and ambition – I have a university place this autumn. The easy route would have been to give up and stay in my hometown for the rest of my life, but I changed my beliefs through the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck as well as through fantastic mentoring from other students. Once I get to university I’m determined to give back – to mentor other young carers and to let them know that we deserve to dream big.
Written by Dani Yates