Blog: Mental health support for young carers during the pandemic

Published: 9 Sep 2020

Author: Myra Clark
Blog: Mental health support for young carers during the pandemic

Covid-19 has increased pressure on the estimated 700,000 young careers across the UK. In my role as CEO of TYKES, a support service for young people in Scotland who have a caring role at home, I have been implementing new ways to support the mental health of young carers during the pandemic.

"We were very aware that mental health issues would grow, but didn’t realise quite how badly" - Myra Clark, Fellow

I am a 2020 Churchill Fellow hoping to discover how other countries support those young carers who have mental health issues to contend with while they are also providing care to a family member, attending school and trying to sustain a circle of friends that support and understand them. With my findings, I hope to find a way of providing a safe link between initial referral to statutory services and appointment dates without the current long delays. The implications of these long delays are a possible rise in self-harming incidents and more talks of suicide attempts. Now, there are also fears around Covid-19 and what could happen to cared for persons should they contract the virus. NHS Scotland state that waiting times should not exceed 18 weeks: however, this timeframe is currently not being met.

When lockdown happened, my Fellowship got put on hold. Lockdown also affected the way TYKES interact with young carers as we were not allowed contact with anyone outside of immediate family. How were we going to support our young people and how were they going to cope, caring, full-time at home?

The TYKES team decided to set up social media platforms to keep contact with young carers and provide virtual support. We were very aware that mental health issues would grow, but didn’t realise quite how badly.

Parents were struggling with home schooling, accessing food parcels, paying bills, entertaining their children and keeping them safe. This was going to be a huge challenge for the TYKES team. One of the first things we did was to secure a mental health support worker to be able to help young people and our staff through telephone and video contact. Young carers were able to discuss their fears and family concerns about the virus and our staff received support which empowered them to better help young people. This was funded through one of our local resilience groups.

We started our support with quizzes, spot the difference, crosswords and riddles. We then introduced virtual drop-in sessions for older young carers and parents. From this, the parents organised daily recipes to be shared and a ‘knit and natter’ group, which is a weekly virtual meet-up where they can provide support for each other. This has proved especially useful in addressing back-to-school issues, which were mostly issues for the parents rather than the children, who were all keen to get back to school. We are now doing garden visits on a one-to-one basis.

Myra and the Tykes team delivered ‘hugs’ in the form of a cushion to 103 young carers across Sutherland to mark Young Carers day on 11 June 

The main concern was that for a young carer, the summer holidays can be relatively easy as they get into a routine over the six weeks, but the lockdown is now heading towards six months. A community consultation was set up by Highland Council, led by local Councillors, to discuss local issues around Covid-19 and how to support young people back to school, where I mentioned our parents’ concerns. From this, the Highland Council assigned an individual who would support the families to get their children back to school and arrange a short-term package of care support until they were back on their feet.  

So what now? The new normal is going to take some time for people to get used to, and those who already have issues are going to struggle with life more than ever. My Fellowship is about finding ways to support families and young people at a more grassroots level. How can communities help? How can we reduce waiting times? How do we support our young people to find ways of coping and reach their own goals? I am so looking forward to my Churchill travels, when they become possible again, to find out the answers to these questions.

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