Whether you’re a young carer or an older carer, you will find caring takes its toll on your mental health over time. As a carer, you are constantly putting the needs of someone else before your own needs, relegating your feelings to the bottom of the pile. Your life will run to a tight schedule of medication management and appointments, cooking, cleaning, helping with movement, shopping, money management and much more.
You may also struggle to take your own physical health seriously, as you are so focused on the physical health of the person you’re caring for; your own aches and pains seem trivial in comparison.
Though this attitude seems admirable, it can present problems, as you have no time or emotional bandwidth to value yourself. You are at risk of burning out if you don’t put things in perspective, and that’s no help to you or the person you care for.
Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is one type of therapy that can really help carers, because it makes sure you develop a lasting plan for change and growth.
You might also consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Psychotherapy. An initial consultation allows you and your therapist to decide which type of talking therapy is best.
Carers and the Burden of Responsibility
Here are some of the automatic thoughts that carers of all ages can have, and that therapists can help you to work through during treatment:
There’s no point asking for help when everyone else is so busy or far away.
I’d rather be there all day and all night than have a stranger looking after them.
Mum refuses to go into a home, and we can’t afford home help, so my only choice is to be her full-time carer. If I say no, I’m a bad child.
They’re in constant pain, so how can I moan about anything in my life?
I’ll just skip breakfast and lunch again today – there isn’t time to make food for me and keep an eye on them.
How can I leave someone else in charge of care when I’m the only one who knows how to do it? I’d never forgive myself if something happened when I wasn’t there.
Society puts high value on altruism; helping others is seen as a worthy act, and it wins praise from those around you, but it also wrongly puts a negative slant on choosing to step away or share the responsibility of caring. Apparently, you should just ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, regardless of your own difficulties and the limits of only 24 hours in a day. This damaging attitude can leave you with core beliefs that you struggle to change without therapy.
Advice for Young Carers
A young carer is defined as ‘a person under 18 who provides or intends to provide care for another person (of any age, except where that care is provided for payment, pursuant to a contract or as voluntary work)’, according to the Children and Families Act 2014. Carers.org estimates there are 700,000 young carers in the UK, or one in every 12 secondary school-aged children.
Young carers are especially vulnerable to taking on too many responsibilities and feeling isolated from their non-carer peers. Being a young carer means acting like an adult when you’re not ready to be one, however hard you try, as you juggle schoolwork, hormones and growing up with the pressures of caring. Importantly, a young carer shouldn’t be taking on the same tasks and time demands as an adult carer.
Furthermore, young carers have missed an average of 48 school days to care for relatives, and 68% of young carers have been bullied because of their home situation. However, help is at hand: families can ask for a Carer’s Assessment, apply for a Carer’s Allowance and, from 2019 in Scotland, those not eligible for Carer’s Allowance can apply for a Young Carer Grant.
Talking about your feelings as a young carer can help; child psychologists offer a non-judgemental ear and can support young carers at this pivotal time in their lives, away from the turbulent settings of home and school.
Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).