Impact of caring
Caring responsibilities can be difficult and stressful at any age. Taking on the physical and emotional demands of supporting a family member or friend with a long term sickness, disability, mental ill health or addiction is a lot for young minds to deal with.
For many young people, particularly those who go unidentified, caring can lead to a significant and long term negative impact on their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Young carers often talk about feeling tired and under pressure. Many experience traumatic life changes such as bereavement, family break-up, losing income or housing, and seeing the effects of an illness or addiction on the person they care for. All these things alongside the pressures of school or college and the social isolation experienced by many, can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Research by Carers Trust and the University of Nottingham found that almost a third of young carers surveyed (29%), reported that their own physical health was ‘just OK’, and 38% reported having a mental health problem.
Young carers’ physical health may also suffer. Financial pressures, time pressures, exhaustion as a result of interrupted sleep, physical injuries from repeatedly having to support or move someone with poor mobility.
The health of young carers may be affected for a variety of reasons and might not be addressed if their health appointments are missed, not prioritised or there is a distrust of health services. The 2011 census found that young carers providing between 20 and 49 hours are over 3 times more likely to report their health as not good compared to other children without caring responsibilities.
Assessment, support and services
It is vital that young carers are identified early and that an assessment of their needs includes an assessment of their health and wellbeing.
School nurses are ideally placed to support in the early identification of young carers and ensure that they receive timely, age-appropriate information, by spotting and addressing any emerging health needs. By ensuring that young carers are accessing appropriate health services and other support, school nurses can help reduce the negative impact on the health and wellbeing of young carers.
An annual health and wellbeing needs assessment could be employed to ensure a young carers own health is maintained and to check that young carers are registered and able to access their GP, dentist or optician. In Oxfordshire for example, one initiative aims to undertake comprehensive health assessments by a school nurse of young carers.
The Manual for Measures of Caring Activities and Outcomes is being increasingly used by young carers’ services across the UK and abroad. It contains a range of tools relevant for assessment and evaluation work with young carers and assesses the impact of caring on a young carer.
Dedicated support for young carers can help to protect the health and wellbeing of young carers. Young carers often say that having someone to talk to, to share their concerns with such as a young carers’ support worker, is hugely important.
Young carers also often say that peer support online or within a young carers’ service for example, where they can relax, be themselves and take part in activities is vital. For others, dedicated emotional support from specialist services may be appropriate.
Respite activities and sports are also important for young carers. Providing opportunities where young carers can simply be young people and have fun, will help reduce social isolation and protect their health and wellbeing.