Not all children whose family members have mental ill-health will experience difficulties or be young carers.
Barriers to identification
Because mental illness is not always visible and many mental health conditions fluctuate nature, young carers often care unidentified and unsupported.
Mental ill-health is still often misunderstood and individuals and families can still experience stigma associated with it. As a result young carers caring for a parent or other family member with a mental health condition may be more reluctant to tell anyone about it. Identification may also be impeded by parents not wishing to involve services because of fear of stigmatisation.
Whilst young carers will have many shared experiences, young people caring for someone with a mental illness may experience additional difficulties.
Young carers may find it hard to understand the illness and may not have someone to explain it to them in an age-appropriate way. Others may be embarrassed about their parent’s illness, bullied because of it, or scared by its unpredictable nature.
Providing emotional support to a parent at risk of harming themselves or committing suicide, or dealing with the aftermath of these actions and the intermittent and unpredictable needs of individuals with mental health difficulties can be extremely distressing.
Because of the stigma associated with mental illness children and young people may conceal their caring role from their peers or choose not to take friends home for fear of being bullied or socially isolated.
Fear of stigmatisation and fear of a services intervention can act as barriers to identification and young carers receiving support. Services and support must recognise these particular issues faced by these young people and gain the trust of families and young people in order to encourage openness and engagement.
Some parents may have a mental health condition and also be affected by substance or alcohol misuse. It is important to maintain effective links between all agencies involved to provide extra support should they need it.