The stresses and strains of being a family carer – Tegan’s experience
“When Mum came home from hospital our lives changed very quickly. I had to grow up fast and learn lessons that many children my age might not have. Mum wasn’t able to walk without a Zimmer frame, couldn’t lift anything, and couldn’t even get up and down the stairs. I had to help Mum to wash and dress and help Dad look after my little sister, as well as do routine chores around the house”
There are reportedly more than 800,000 young carers across the UK, and it is not surprising that we come across a high number of young family members who have taken on a significant caring role for injured clients who we represent in personal injury and clinical negligence cases. Often a heavy burden falls upon a spouse or partner, but in many cases children take on significant caring responsibilities.
Not only that, but a child’s life can be transformed in many other ways by a significant injury to a parent. The Young Minds charity, which fights for the mental health of children and young people, suggests the following issues are faced by young carers:
- Feeling stressed by having too much responsibility
- Feeling physically tired
- Feeling worried about your relation’s health
- Struggling to cope with others’ moods
- Having no time for self or homework
- Missing school
- Feeling embarrassed about your situation
- Being bullied
- Experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, anger or guilt
Tegan, the daughter of a client of mine who has cauda equina syndrome, has written movingly of her experiences since her mother’s injury on the Cauda Equina Champions Charity’s website, and what she says is remarkably in tune with many of the issues identified by Young Minds.
“I had never heard of this condition until me and my family were affected by it. Two years later, I still wonder how different life may have been if Mum was operated on quicker.
If I’m honest, I can’t really remember what Mum was like before CES, but I remember we used to do a lot more. We are not able to go on long-haul holidays anymore and mum isn’t able to go on rollercoasters or waterslides. A lot of the things we used to do, we just can’t do anymore. Even simple things like going to the shops take a lot of planning and I need to help Mum with her wheelchair or scooter.
At the beginning I felt embarrassed; I was embarrassed of what my friends would say. But now it’s become normal. The good things that have come out of Mum’s disability are that we spend a lot more time together, we talk a lot more and we laugh a lot! Our bond is closer than it has ever been.
I have realised that people who face battles and fight through pain every day are the real heroes in life. Knowing myself what goes on, living with a parent with a disability has given me a lot more respect for carers and for other people like me and my family.
What would I say to other children living with a parent with a disability? I would say that it’s ok to feel sad, scared and even embarrassed. It’s ok to be angry, to be angry of the situation that has changed everything. I want them to know that they are not on their own. There are people they can talk to. There are charities that can help. In time it will get easier and you will see the positives from the situation.
The most important thing is not to keep everything bottled up, talk to your friends, to your family or your teacher. You don’t need to feel guilty for how you feel, and you don’t need to go through this on your own.”
Tegan’s advice is very insightful, and again is absolutely in accordance with that offered by Young Minds:
- Make sure to reach out to others, like at school/college or specific young carers groups/support services, to reduce pressure and help to improve mental health
- Take time for yourself
- Make sure someone is looking out for you (teacher or friend) so you don’t feel alone
Our ethos at RWK Goodman is to offer a holistic approach to our clients, and understanding the dynamic of the family is very important.
Of course, if we are able to win substantial damages for our clients, as we aim to do in every case, that will often include provision for significant levels of professional care, which is likely to ease the burden of care for family members. The psychological impact is not so easily solved, so it is very important to remember that the whole family is impacted by a significant injury to any member of it.
There are a number of charities which can help, not only Young Minds, but also Honeypot (which offers countryside respite breaks for young carers as well as a range of support services), the Young Carers Development Trust (which tackles the lack of - often educational - opportunity experienced by many young carers due to their caring responsibilities), the Children’s Society, and the NSPCC, among others.