Young carers are children, teens and young people who are 25 years old or younger who provide support to a family member, partner or friend who is living with a mental health condition.
They might do things for their loved one like helping out around the house e.g., cooking or cleaning, helping to take care of siblings, offering emotional support, help with personal care, help with appointments and medications, and much more.
Young carers often have quite a lot on their plate between juggling caring responsibilities, school, work, and the other usual things young people experience as they grow up. It can be hard for young carers to find time for themselves, and it can be quite a stressful time for them.
Like carers from other communities, they are often ‘hidden carers’.
Young carers don’t usually identify with the term ‘carer’ – instead, they consider themselves a sibling, child, grandkid, relative, or friend instead. Therefore, they are less likely to speak up and tell others that they are a carer, and schools and teachers, other family members, and service providers are less likely to recognise them as a carer.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that there are 235,300 young carers aged 25 years or under living in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2018). However, due to the reasons listed above, these numbers are considered to underestimate the actual number of young carers living in Australia.
You don’t need to live with the person who is unwell, be the main source of care and support, or receive a payment to be considered a carer – you just need to help someone who needs care.Am I A Mental Health Carer?
Barriers Young Carers Might Face
Carers NSW research states that young carers are at risk of experiencing long term disadvantage than their non caring peers (Carers NSW, 2020).
Young carers can fall behind their peers in the education system, as caregiving duties can often be the young carers main focus, leaving little time to concentrate on schoolwork. Caregiving responsibilities may also impact on things like sleep or physical health, so when they do go to school, they might not be able to pay attention and end up falling behind. Therefore is it not surprising young carers are also less likely to go onto further or higher education than their non caring peers (Carers NSW, 2020).
Young carers also face similar issues with employment. They may not be able to find a suitable job because they don’t have time due to their caregiving responsibilities, and employers might also be less likely to offer support or flexibility, because they don’t realise that they are a young carer. This can also impact their long term employment prospects (Carers NSW, 2020).
Additionally, young carers are more likely to have poorer mental health than their peers. This is due to a range of things, such as being stressed and burnt out due to their caregiving role. They also may not have as much time to socialise with their friends due to their responsibilities, and so are often isolated. Additionally, young carers may not share information about their caregiving role with their friends due to thinking they won’t be understood, or they are embarrassed or ashamed, increasing their feelings of isolation and loneliness (Carers NSW, 2020).
Additional Barriers that young carers may face
Young carers often face additional barriers in accessing help and support for themselves.
- Not knowing that they are a young carer and that there are supports available.
- Difficulty accessing services due to juggling caregiving responsibilities, school, and other things, leaving little time for much else.
- Difficulty accessing supports in person due to not having a way to get there e.g., parent can’t drive them, they don’t have a license yet, or they don’t live near public transport.
- Might not have a job, so unable to afford supports or even afford the cost of getting to and from supports.
- Not speaking up due to feeling embarrassed or guilty about their caring role.
- Not wanting their peers, school or employer to find out what is going on at home.
- Often feeling all alone and isolated in their caring role.
- Feeling like it’s their fault that the person they care for is unwell.
- Confusion as to what is wrong with the person they are caring for, and what to do to help them.
Helpful Tips and Strategies For Young Carers
Speak to a trusted teacher or school counsellor
Speak to a trusted teacher or school counsellor at your school about what is going on at home. If you’re nervous or embarrassed, take a friend with you.
You can choose to share as much or as little as you like. You might want to talk about your responsibilities at home, how your schoolwork is being impacted, and what you might think can help support you.
Your school may be able to put in some supports to help you as a young carer, e.g., offering later deadlines for assignments, being able to use your phone to call home to check in on your loved one, or offer different ways to catch up on your work. You can also ask someone else such as a parent to speak to your school for you or with you.
Speak to friends
Speak to your friends about what is going on. Your friends are there to listen and to help support you. You might also feel better talking to someone about what is going on, instead of bottling it up inside.
True friends will understand and help support you.
Make time for yourself
Make time for yourself to do something that makes you happy – you are important too! It might be hanging with your friends, playing your favourite sport, or reading a good book.
Connect with other young carers
It is normal to feel worried, stressed, angry, and overwhelmed at times. There are things out there to help support you, and there are other young carers out there who are going through a similar thing you are. Connect with support networks and speak to other young carers.
You can read some stories from other young carers on the Young Carers Network website, or view other helpful services and resources below.
Participate in online forums for young people
You can check out and participate in forums online specifically for young people, where you can connect with other young people, talk about your worries, and help share strategies and tips.
Reachout offers an online forum for young people that are free, anonymous and 24/7. They are available for anyone aged 14 – 25 years old.
Talk to a peer worker
If you’re starting to think that your own mental health is being affected by your caring role or other things going on in your life, you can talk to a peer worker at Reachout.
Peer workers have had their own experiences with mental health issues when they were young, so they can understand what you’re going through. The Reachout peer service is free, private and confidential.
For more information + to book in with a peer worker, visit the Reachout website.
Talk to a mental health clinician
You can also reach out to Headspace if you feel like your mental health isn’t great. They offer online and phone support with a mental health clinician.
The goal of the eHeadspace service is to help you reduce stress and feel empowered to make healthy decisions. You may be asked questions about your safety, emotions and thoughts, how you’ve been feeling recently, and other questions about your supports, hobbies and interests.
They are available from 9.00am – 1.00am every day.
For more information + to connect with a mental health clinician, visit the Headspace website.
You can check out lots more tips on taking care of yourself in our ‘taking care of yourself’ section on our website.
You have rights as a young carer, and it is important that you know what they are.
You can read all about your rights in our ‘Carer rights’ section on our website.
There are some useful apps that are free that you can download which provide practical tips on self-care and managing your own mental health:
A daily mindfulness and meditation guide at your fingertips
Headspace Meditation and Mindfulness
All about teaching you about meditation and mindfulness a few minutes a day
A self-care tool to help you focus on your mental health
Download the Gratitude app on Android
A big list of fun and helpful apps recommended by Reachout
Happify brings you effective tools and programs to help you take control of your feelings and thoughts
Support Services and Helpful Resources For Young Carers
Young Carers NSW
Carers NSW run the Young Carer Program, a free statewide service for young carers 25 years old and under. They offer information and referrals to helpful supports for young carers, send out a young carers newsletter, offer emotional support, and connect you with other programs they run.
Phone: 02 9280 4744
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 5.00pm
Young Carer Program Sign up form: carersnsw.org.au/services-and-support/programs-services/young-carers/young-carer-program-sign-up-form
Little Dreamers support young people aged 4 – 25 who provide care for a family member affected by disability, chronic or mental illness, addiction or frail age.
They run one on one programs for young carers such as offering dream experiences, mentoring and tutoring, an online young carer hub, podcast + more. They also run group programs such as a holiday program full of events during the school holidays, the Big Dreamers personal development program, the Level Up program, + more.
Phone: 1800 717 515
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 5.00pm
Kookaburra Kids deliver services to young people impacted by family mental illness with the aim of empowering them to build resilience, lifelong knowledge and abilities so they can reach their potential.
They run camps, fun activity days, Kookaburra Kids Connect + more.
Phone: 1300 566 525
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 5.00pm
Young Carers Network
The Young Carers Network is an initiative of Carers Australia. It is a nationally coordinated resource to help raise awareness about young carers, provide information and help connect young carers to support.
They have stories from young carers, events and opportunities, helpful tips for young carers, information on the young carer bursary program, help you find support services, + more.
Children of Parents With a Mental Illness (COPMI)
COPMI is a national initiative by Emerging Minds, that develops information for young people who have a parent with a mental illness, as well as information for parents and professionals.
Their website has lots of helpful information, ranging from information about different types of mental illnesses, getting help, advice from other young people + lots more.
The Kids Helpline offers phone counseling for kids, teens and young people 25 and under who are going through a tough time. They also have information for parents to help support their kids when experiencing issues. You can ring, email, or webchat with the Kids Helpline.
Phone: 1800 55 1800
Hours: Available 24/7
Reachout helps kids and young people 25 years old and under through every day questions and advice to tough times. They have lots of information on topics ranging from stress and anger to alcohol, offer an online forum for young people, fun apps, and more.
Headspace is the national youth mental health foundation, who support young people with mental health, physical health (including sexual health), alcohol and other drug services, as well as work and study support.
With a focus on early intervention, they work with young people to provide support at a crucial time in their lives – to help get them back on track and strengthen their ability to manage their mental health in the future.
Phone: (03) 9027 0100 (Head Office)
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2018. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release#:~:text=In%202018%20there%20were%204.4,years%20and%20over%20had%20disability.
Carers NSW, ‘Young Carers Policy Statement’, 2020.