Lack of support putting young carers at risk of mental health problems

Release Date: 03 December 2010

Source: Mental Health Foundation

Country: United Kingdom

The Mental Health Foundation and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers have today published the MyCare report calling for more to be done to support young people who care for parents with severe mental health problems in the UK.

  • 50,000 young people in the UK live with a parent with severe mental health problems.
  • Many lack support, with the group being overlooked in policy-making and service planning.
  • Young carer’s own physical and mental health is being put at risk.

The Mental Health Foundation and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers have today published the MyCare report calling for more to be done to support young people who care for parents with severe mental health problems in the UK.

Official figures estimate that up to 50,000 young people in the UK live with a parent with severe mental health problems. However, with a recent BBC survey reporting the overall number of young carers to be far greater than previously thought, the actual number of mental health young carers could be considerably higher. Frequently overlooked and poorly-served, they are often reluctant to be identified for fear of stigma and discrimination, letting the family down or being taken into care. Fears are also rising that many could lose vital support under projected cuts by councils.

The MyCare project was created by the Mental Health Foundation, in association with The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, to raise awareness of young carers aged 9-25.  The project worked with young carers’ service workers, mental health professionals, education professionals and young carers themselves. The aim was to explore the needs of young people who care for a parent with severe mental illness, the factors that offer these young people a chance to build resilience against mental illness, and how services could best support these young carers.

Key findings from the MyCare report:

  • With so many adult responsibilities, young carers often miss out on opportunities that other children have to play and learn. They can become isolated with no relief from the pressures at home and no chance to enjoy a normal childhood.
  • Young carers often lacked information to understand their parents’ mental health problems and needed more information to help them cope.
  • The pressures of caring for parents  and living their own lives frequently leads to anxiety, feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, resentment and stress.
  • Young carers are likely to experience problems with school such as regular lateness, difficulty completing assignments on time, disruptive behaviour, difficulty making friends, being bullied and leaving without any formal qualifications.
  • They often do not want to be identified for fear of stigma and discrimination, letting the family down or being taken into care.
  • Only small numbers of young carers are currently being identified or assessed for support. The reasons for this include blurred boundaries of responsibility between adults and children’s services, a lack of awareness among many professional groups of young carers’ needs and concerns, the young carers’ own lack of awareness of their entitlements, and their reluctance to seek formal help.
  • Just over half of the education professionals surveyed said that young carers were identified in their school but they had little awareness about policies and provision available to support them at school.
  • Young carers’ support groups were seen by young carers as a very helpful response to their needs, they valued the peer support, the chance to make friends, have fun and escape from their caring role.

The report calls for:

  • Clear, factual young person-friendly information about mental health and mental illness.
  • Young carers to be included in discussions about their parents’ treatment.
  • Each school to have a policy on the provision of support for pupils who are young carers, ensuring that all teachers and other education professionals are aware of the issue and of how to sign post young carers to appropriate support networks.
  • Adult mental health services to establish whether services users are parents and, if so, what role their dependents play in their care in order to ascertain how best both can be supported.
  • A greater priority given to funding for young carers’ support services to ensure good geographical coverage of services around the country.
  • Education and mental health services to work more effectively together with the young carer’s family to meet the needs of the whole family.

Dr Dan Robotham, Senior Researcher at The Mental Health Foundation who led the project says:

"While there are examples of good practice such as young carers’ support groups, much more needs to be done to meet young carers’ needs more effectively. The MyCare report points to a number of suggested improvements for the various services involved, including the involvement of young carers in discussions about their parents’ treatment, more age appropriate-information about mental health to be made available, and greater cooperation between children’s, education and mental health services to give young carers the kind support they deserve."

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation says:

"50,000 young people in the UK live with a parent with severe mental health problems, many of whom take on much of the responsibility for caring for their parents from a very young age, missing out on a normal childhood. We hope MyCare will raise awareness of this under-reported issue, and result in more young carers getting the support they need to help their parents, whilst also realising their own potential and living life to the full."

Carole Cochrane, Chief Executive of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers says:

"Working with young carers, we know that without the right support, many will underachieve or drop out of school altogether, having a long and enduring impact on their future prospects. The aim of this project is to help children’s services, education and mental health services to work together to better identify and support young carers, making the little changes to services that can make a huge difference to their lives."
 
Please visit our Publications section to download a free executive summary of this report, the guidance booklet, or to order a full copy of the report.

For interviews with Dr Dan Robotham or to speak to a young carer or people involved in their support, please contact: