A hidden issue

“I always thought I was the only one but when I go to the KidsTime Workshop every month, I see so many children. I would like to see all the kids in this situation learn that you can look after your own emotions as well as coping with mental illness as a family.” Young carer

A young carer is: ‘A child or young person under 18 who provides regular and ongoing care and emotional support to a family member who has a physical or mental illness, disability or misuses substances’. ADASS, ADCS, The Children’s Society 2012.

Children who have a parent with a mental illness might not be identified as a young carer. They might not meet the criteria of doing a caring role. Maybe there is another parent or family member seen as the main carer for their parent. That person might even be an older sibling. They may never have thought of themselves as a young carer, or heard the term before. They might not think it applies to them because they don’t do any more at home than you usually would. They’re not doing more housework or cooking or helping a parent get washed or dressed. Alternatively, their parent might be embarrassed if people found out the young person does tasks which are usually considered an adult’s job. That young person might just think that loving, caring or helping their parent is not something as official as ‘being their carer’. But being a young carer includes emotional support as well as caring duties.

It is possible that the young person or family members treat the parent’s illness and the caring that they do for them as a ‘secret’. Because of the ongoing stigma and discrimination around mental illness, the young person or their family may not wish to speak out about what is happening at home.

“You can’t talk about it at school because you know it makes you different. But at KidsTime Workshops, children talk about mental health all the time so you can stop holding in your feelings. It’s comforting, and I felt more accepting of my dad.” Young carer

Even if they don’t see themselves as a young carer, if you know someone who has a parent with a mental illness that may mean they are doing some caring roles, whether this is practical or emotional. It is important that the carer has their own sources of support too.