How to look after your mental health as a young carer
Being a young carer can be difficult, and sometimes a 24/7 job. How do you care for someone while also making sure you’re looking after your mental health? Honor shares her experiences and gives her top tips.
Growing up as a young carer, I found it hard to balance looking after my disabled brother and finding time for my mental health.
In my home environment, it was difficult to step back and take time for myself. My brother has cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy, meaning he needs 24/7 care. After my stepdad left, this care was shared between me and my mum. It seemed impossible.
Having divorced parents meant that every other weekend we would stay at my dad's. My mum and stepdad were able to recharge and have the rest they needed, however, I still felt like I was trapped in this cycle of helping my brother out. I couldn’t take the break that everyone else got and this took a toll on my mental health, as well as my education.
I was used to helping out and sacrificing my time to look after my brother, but as I got to the stage of doing my GCSE exams, finding the time to look after my brother and do sufficient revision was incredibly difficult to achieve. As I was quite young, when I started to develop what I know now was anxiety and depression, it got passed off as just hormones and stress of exams. I felt like my feelings were rejected because of my age and no one considered what I felt, making me even more lonely.
It was only when I spoke up about it that something started to change. I became more aware of mental health and that’s when I realised what I might have been suffering from wasn’t hormones but actually mental illness. After being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I learnt what I needed to do to be able to cope better when caring for someone else.
Here are some tips for looking after yourself - because you should always come first:
Tips for looking after yourself
- Take regular steps back - Give yourself a break to recharge and spend the time to yourself doing things you enjoy!
- Ask for help - Even with regular breaks, when you feel like you are reaching a breaking point, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can sometimes feel like you are completely alone but I can assure you, there are people wanting to help you.
- Look out for yourself - Don’t sacrifice your own mental health for somebody else’s. To be able to help somebody you love, you need to be able to feel well enough in yourself to give your all to the person you are looking after.
- Try therapy - Therapy isn’t just for people at breaking point. Looking after someone that requires a lot of your physical and mental attention can be incredibly draining, so talking to a therapist can help get some of your concerns and worries out into the open.
- Talk to others - Talk to other people who are in similar situations as you. Have conversations with people who get and understand what you may be feeling, and they might have some really useful tips on how they deal with their mental health too. When I did it, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who was suffering.
Always make time for the things that make you happy. Be kind to yourself and don’t take on the guilt. Just do your best...but remember you can’t do it all. The caregiving journey might be challenging but you do not do that journey alone. Your best is enough.
Find help: young carers
If you are a young carer and struggling with your mental health, have a look at our young carers guide for more tips and advice on looking after yourself.