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This year, young Carer’s awareness day is all about mental health.

Nationally there are 800,000 secondary school children with a caring role. That equates to approximately 6 children in every classroom. This can include caring for a parent or a sibling with a mental health or substance misuse problem, a physical health problem or a disability.

Young carers undertake a crucial role but it can be lonely and stressful and the challenges can lead young carers to experience mental health problems themselves.

We know from talking to young carers that their caring role often results in:-

  • Interrupted sleep
  • Difficulty forming friendships
  • Missing out on opportunities to spend time with friends in leisure and social activities
  • Being bullied at school
  • Being late for school and not achieving their potential in education.

Given what we know about the factors that influence emotional resilience and contribute to poor mental health, it isn’t a huge surprise that a recent Carers Trust survey (2019) reported that:

  • Young carers are more likely to have anxiety or depression than other young people their age
  • 50% of young carers often feel stressed
  • 46% of young carers say they often feel lonely as a result of their caring roles.

Why does this matter to the Trust?

We provide mental health and learning disability services across Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.  Having joined the Trust last year, I recognise we need to do more to support our young carers who do a brilliant job day-in, day-out to support a loved one needing help.  The pressures on the NHS give even more reason to give greater recognition and support to our young carers.  Without their support, the services we provide would struggle to cope as demand and pressure on services would hugely increase. So I would like to say a personal thank you to every young carer in our community – you do a tremendous job.

In a recent session in Cheltenham with young carers as part of their annual Twilight event preparations, I heard from our young carers and parents.  They shared their frustrations of not being properly recognised in the key roles they undertake supporting a loved one.  I heard that where young carers’ parents are experiencing mental health issues they want them to have help with parenting skills.  “They are still my mum or dad and even if they are struggling with their mental health I still need their guidance”.  Where young carers are supporting their brothers or sisters, having access to the right mental health support is vital.

Put simply, I want us to do much better.  I understand from colleagues that we have heard the same issues consistently over a number of years.  The time to make changes is long overdue.  Funding and capacity for mental health services have undoubtedly been an issue but the recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan provided commitment and, importantly, funding to improve mental health services, particularly for children and young people. Gloucestershire has recently been announced as a ‘Mental Health Trailblazer’ – one of only a handful across the country.  It means that there will be additional investment in children and young people’s services of £5m in Gloucestershire over the next 2.5 years.  This will provide mental health workers in schools and reduce referral to treatment access times for specialist children and young people’s mental health services for those in greater need.  We are also working in Herefordshire to increase the level of investment in children and young people’s mental health services.

So why does getting this right matter to me personally?  My Mum was in and out of hospital when I was young – she was actually in an ‘institution’ less than a mile from where I went to primary school. My friends would often poke fun at the patients there – I was too embarrassed to tell them my dear Mum was amongst them.   It was hard without my Mum at home, and as my Dad struggled to take time off work, my sister and I spent some time in temporary foster care. As I grew up, I remember feeling confused with my Mum’s mental health problems and had no one to talk to.  Now, in my job, alongside colleagues within the Trust, I have the opportunity to influence the commitments we can make to young carers which I want to set out on this day raising awareness.

 Our commitment to young carers

The #CareForMeToo campaign launched today by Carers Trust encourages each and every person to recognise the needs of young carers in the families we are working with.

The single most important thing we can do is recognise where there is a young person in a family who may be in a caring role or affected by a family member’s illness or disability.

So, from today to demonstrate our commitment to young carers and the #CareForMeToo campaign, we are making it a priority to encourage our staff to talk with service users and their children about the roles they may have in supporting their parent or sibling and ask how we can support you as the whole family.

Over the coming year we will be working to:-

  • expand the number of Young Carer Link workers we have in our services,
  • develop better systems of sharing information around supporting young carers
  • Sharing young carer stories regularly to raise the profile of why #CareForMeToo matters
  • Ensuring that resources are available to help our teams have important conversations with families.

Click here to find ‘Ask, Say, Do’ Top Tips written by young people to help professionals have a conversation with parents and young carers.

It is our hope that when we speak with young carers in the near future, we hear a different message than the ones we have routinely heard before and they tell us that we have honoured our commitment and that we care for them too.

John Campbell is Director of Service Delivery at 2gether.

Further resources

Gloucestershire Young Carers

Carers Gloucestershire