As Wales considers its next move to tackle the pandemic, many of us feel anxious and worried about the coming months. This can be particularly difficult for young adult carers, many of whom have returned to school or college only a month ago. YAC’s are young people aged 16 -25 who looked after a relative or close friend who has an illness or disability, mental health condition or substance addiction. They do this in an unpaid capacity and usually on top of going to school, college or work. The numbers of these carers has risen during 2020 and many of the people they care for remain shielding and vulnerable.
Being a young adult carer can be hard work especially in these times, whether you look after someone in your home, or look after someone from a distance, caring for someone can really take a toll on your own health. Perhaps during the summer, they had a taste of freedom as some of the rules were relaxed and there was excitement about starting college or a new job. These feelings might now have turned to worry about how they will cope with both their caring responsibilities and the requirements of education or employment. The coming months will be a challenge to many of us adults, let alone someone young with such big responsibilities.
If you are a young adult carer and want some ideas about looking after yourself in the coming weeks, here are some ideas.
Get your team together – you don’t have to do it on your own. Make a list of those people that helped first time round. Friends, family, neighbours, those WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Most colleges, schools and workplaces will have a Carers Lead – someone who’s job it is to help young people and adults who have caring responsibilities. Be clear about what help you need and what you are asking for – people respond well when you give them a specific task like food shopping or being available to talk too.
Take care of yourself – you will remember what worked (and didn’t work) for you during the spring and summer, these may change due to the weather etc so find out what works for you now. Put an action under the headings of connecting, being active, keep learning, giving and taking notice. These are the five ways to wellbeing and are shown to improve emotional and physical resilience in times of stress. For example knitting a scarf for a friend (giving), learning a new soup recipe (learning), going for an early morning walk (being active), making time to phone someone (connecting) and try some mindfulness daily (taking notice) Ask others for ideas at carers trust, Minds sidebyside website or childline.
Set your limits– As much as it’s important to have a life outside of your caring role, and you might have just started college or work with new friends and new opportunities, setting boundaries is incredibly important for your own wellbeing. Many young adult carers do not tell others about their caring role, it might be easier to tell one person who can help others understand your needs. Speak to your college, school or workplace Carer Lead so they can share that load. And don’t feel guilty for letting people know you need some space or time to rest.
Reconnect with the person you care for. When you’re looking after a loved one, it can be hard to break out of the roles of ‘carer’ and ‘cared for’ once you start looking after them. This is difficult after a summer where some might have been able to spend less time at home and had positive and exciting things to look forward too with the person you care for. So it’s important you still try and connect with them in a way that you would if you weren’t looking after them. Try starting a new hobby together this autumn, like crafting, painting, knitting or photography. Not only will it help you both connect with each other, having a hobby and a shared love can really enrich both of your lives.
Get support – don’t care alone Many young adult carers don’t realise they are a carer, or know of the support that is available to them. But it’s so important to reach out for help. All schools and colleges have staff that are trained and experienced in supporting young and young adult carers. They work with external agencies that can help with advice on money and benefits, support groups etc
Remember, you are not alone, this wont last forever.
Sarah-Jane Bailey is a wellbeing officer at Cardiff and Vale college and the lead worker for young adult carers.