When I was ten years old, my Dad shattered his elbow while we were on holiday in Menorca. He was rushed to hospital and spent the rest of the trip in agony. When we returned home he had to have an operation to have a metal joint placed in his arm.
I remember little snippets from this time; feeling worried, seeing my Mum make tons of phone calls and my Dad wincing in pain every time he had to move his arm. I remember feeling upset; my Dad, who usually did everything with me, played games in the pool, took me to waterparks, now couldn’t do any of that. It was strange, the roles had reversed. I was looking after my Dad in the way he’d looked after me.
Luckily, my Dad got better. His elbow healed, and he went back to looking after me. But for some people, looking after someone else is something they do for a long time. For some, it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.
There are recorded to be more than 376,000 Young Adult Carers across the UK, but this number is actually thought to be much higher due to the amount of Young Adult Carers who don’t recognise themselves as such – looking after someone might be just something they’ve always done, or something they feel is their duty to do for someone they love.
The Carers Trust defines a Young Adult Carer as anyone ‘aged 16-25 who care, unpaid, for a family member or friend with an illness, disability, mental health problem or an addiction’.
But the very nature of caring is very different for each person, it might mean helping your parents take care of a sibling with autism or a disability, or caring for a parent with a mental health issue or addiction. It might mean staying up through the night taking care of someone who’s just gotten out of hospital, or helping a grandparent get washed and dressed in the morning. It might also mean that instead of seeing your friends, you stay in the house because you don’t want to leave your sick parent, feeling unable to explore your own world, realise your own talents. Stuck in the house with the knowledge you are falling behind, getting lost.
This can have a big effect on a young person’s life, especially alongside studying, preparing for the future and big life events like applying for university. And even just having the chance to be young, to enjoy being with friends, traveling or moving out on your own is often something a lot of Young Adult Carers miss out on. Caring, especially without support, can often mean putting your own dreams and ambitions aside because you just don’t see how you can leave the person you look after. In fact, Young Adult Carers are twice as likely to not be in education, training or employment. There also four times as likely to drop out of education, and 56% in college or university say they are struggling because of their caring role.
Hannah, 19, a Young Adult Carer who is now at university spoke about how hard it can be to stop caring and rely on others to take care of your loved one, ‘I felt really guilty. I felt like I was abandoning my Mum, but she’s always been really supportive and just told me to just do what I need to do’.
New website, www.YACbook.co.uk, developed by charity Carer Support Wiltshire, was created by Young Adult Carers themselves who really spoke out about the need for an online site with relevant, up to date and useful information specific to them. Available to all Young Adult Carers across the UK, YACbook aims to be a trustworthy source, resource centre and community where Young Adult Carers can get information, advice, and support and enable people to make connections with others in similar situations.
If you’re not a Young Adult Carer, it might not be something you think about daily, if, at all. However three in five people will be a carer or have a caring role at some point in their lives, and the number of unpaid carers is only growing in the UK as the population grows and people live for much longer. Unpaid carers collectively save the NHS millions of pounds, and are invaluable to communities and families. But we have to be there to support them, reach out and provide them with the tools and support to help build their confidence so they can still pursue their own lives.
If you are a Young Adult Carer or think that you might be, check out www.YACbook.co.uk for information, advice and support. You can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter @YACbook.