I tend to focus on unpaid carers, which tends to be those caring for someone being either a family member or friend.
The person being cared for might have a mental illness, physical health needs or disability. I have never thought of myself as a young carer, but looking back I just did things naturally, I supported my brothers who both have autism. As a carer, I just went along with what I ought to be doing, but I did not realise the impact of providing care and support. I did not notice how this would affect my own mental wellbeing.
Throughout school other people picked up on my brother’s disabilities, so it was not long before I was targeted. I also went through racism at school, endless bullying and to be honest I thought this was normal. There were no coping methods, no outreach, no understanding of mental wellbeing. If you complained or reached out, you would get bullied even more because some people felt you were weak. My studies suffered, I could not relate to anyone and the teachers were not trained well enough to pick up the signs. At times I felt the teachers just did not care, it was all about the grades. It was all about reputation and not picking up the signs.
All of this led to trauma and even now as I look back at my early years, I wondered how I survived it all. I guess providing care meant that at least I had some insight into caring for myself, I had to find some way to cope. I could not depend on the education system, maybe the teachers were not supported to provide the tools to help children understand mental health.
So, I survived, but this is not the case for everyone. All it just takes is another young person caring for someone at home. They will help out with chores; try to advocate for whoever they are caring for and of no fault of their own they have a difficult time at school. A child’s experience at school is one of the most important years of someone life, it is the beginning of a ladder to a young person’s future. Grades are not enough; it takes resilience to develop and value our own mental health.
If we fail them at a young age, then they will struggle at a later age. It will be hard for them to find ways to cope with mental wellbeing. Young people need to understand the importance of mental health, we owe them a better future and we should invest in all levels of their health. It can be difficult that someone has to fall unwell in the family, but it is a tragedy that the young carer becomes the next victim of ill health. This might be because of lack of education about mental wellbeing.
By Matthew McKenzie