New report explores the mental health and wellbeing of Scotland’s young carers

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A new study published today [21 February 2017] explores the mental health and wellbeing of young carers in Scotland and reveals that more than one in four are doing the caring on their own.

The study – “Coping is difficult, but I feel proud”: Perspectives on mental health and wellbeing of young carers – is the first of its kind in Scotland to match young carers and their perceptions of their health and wellbeing, against a comparable sample of young people without caring responsibilities.

Commissioned in partnership with Carers Trust, Scotland with the support of Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance, the study surveyed 238 young carers across Scotland.

The research found that perhaps unsurprisingly, young carers with the highest caring responsibilities – between a third and a quarter of respondents – tend to report more negative health effects than those with lower levels of caring; are generally less happy; report more stress-related issues; and are more likely to report sleep difficulties.

Other findings from the survey include:

• One in four young carers are looking after more than one person in their household
• That being a young carer is not all negative and in fact young carers have greater feelings of self-worth than their counterparts who do not have caring responsibilities
• Young carers are in a lower socioeconomic group when compared with the main young population. This may be because there is generally poorer health and wellbeing in lower socio-economic groups or that in those instances where a parent is being cared for, the fact that one of the adults in the in the family is not working may have impacted on the family’s socio-economic status.

The most common activity reported by young carers, relates to spending time with the person they care for, followed by undertaking household tasks. Forty per cent of young carers have to either dress or undress the person they care for at least occasionally, with financial and more intimate caring tasks undertaken less frequently. Also, just over half (51 percent) have also reported having to help at some point during the night, at least occasionally.

Tam Baillie, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said, “In comparing the day-to-day lives of young carers in Scotland with those who don’t have caring responsibilities, this report shows that those with the highest caring responsibilities are more at risk in terms of their mental health and wellbeing, which can have a knock-on effect on other parts of their lives.

“It’s therefore vital that the new mental health strategy, which is due to be published by Scottish Government, ensures that all young people, especially young carers, have access to appropriate mental health services.”

Many young carers felt positive about and took pride in their caring role, feeling that it contributed to their self-esteem. Even so, although many reported having numerous friends, around two-thirds said they feel “left out of things” at least some of the time.

Ross Whitehead, HBSC Research Fellow, said, “The report reveals both the positive and negative aspects of being a young carer. The positive includes an apparent ability for caring responsibilities to boost a young carer’s overall life satisfaction, which may ‘override’ the otherwise negative impact of young carers’ socio-economic background.

“However, it also reveals that young carers have a significantly higher incidence of psychosomatic symptoms like headaches and low mood. Separate analysis revealed that within the group of young carers, it is those with the greatest number of caring responsibilities that are most susceptible to these symptoms.”

Support services provide essential networks for young carers. Just over a quarter (27%) of respondents had accessed counselling support in the past year although the quality of that support was not explored within the research. The survey also indicated that being able to talk to someone who really listens and understands their situation is important to coping, as well as having time away from caring to do fun things, such as attending young carers’ groups.

Karen Martin, Mental Health Development Coordinator at Carers Trust, working with Scottish Young Carer Services Alliance, said, “One aspect of the report which we were pleased to note was the importance which younger carers placed on school in their life. This may be because it is a place where they can get a break from caring or because it offers the opportunity to be with other young people.

“Either way, it gives much needed impetus for improving and increased partnership working between school and young carers’ services, to make sure the most vulnerable aren’t being missed.”

Although the overall group of young carers rate life satisfaction fairly positively, there is less satisfaction shown by those with the highest level of caring responsibilities.

The Commissioner commented, “Although one of the main points of this study was to compare the mental health and wellbeing of young carers with those who don’t have caring responsibilities, it has also clearly demonstrated that young carers are not a homogenous group.

“Young carers have differing needs. It might depend on the level of care they provide and their own personal resilience but we must make sure that they are supported by ensuring limited resources are targeted at those who care the most.”