How caring affects a carer's mental health

I became a carer at the age of 16 and it is safe to say, it was extremely hard. I was full time in college studying whilst also having caring responsibilities at home for both my mum and nan. At the time I got on with it, why would I not, it is family. However, now when I look back on it, I do surprise myself at how well I coped. I guess when we are put under pressure and because it all happened very quickly, I took on that role of being a carer, because if I didn’t no one else would have.

For me now as a 20-year-old, I can look back and identify times when I wasn’t coping well but at the time had no option but to get on with it. My mental health has been affected massively since becoming a carer, and a lot of people might question why? The answer is because all of the added responsibilities eventually take a toll, when you are a carer, you are not only having to care for yourself but another person, or in my case 2. I remember the first few weeks of caring, I seemed to have it all under control but on the inside, I was not coping at all. I had never had to take on responsibility like that before, I was 16, I was still a child, no one else around me my age had all of these added responsibilities. I was finding it hard to find positive ways to cope and I could feel my mental health getting worse, I was anxious all of the time, worrying whether I was doing enough, whether I was enough, whether I should have been doing more and this eventually made my mood dip. I felt like I was being a carer more than I was being Courtney and that is the reality of caring, we are a carer more than we are ourselves and that is hard.

At this time in my caring role, I was fortunate enough to have support from a carers service, however, these people were strangers to me. I remember clearly talking to a member of the staff and telling her how I struggled with my mental health and I was pointed in the direction of support for myself, looking back now that support I received was vital.

I know many other carers will know all to well how caring has impacted on their mental health too and I think it is important that we highlight carers can’t always just go and meet a friend or go on a walk when they feel their mental health getting bad and this is because of the responsibilities caring brings. I know for me, I always felt bad for taking time for me at first, I felt like I always had to be doing something but the reality is it doesn’t make you any less of a carer just because you sit down for 5 minutes. I know how hard it is as a carer to find time to do our own self-care, everyone needs this time to be kind to themselves and carers even more so.

For me I find the following helpful to do, even if it is only for 5 minutes every so often in the day:

  • Sitting down for 5 minutes with a cup of tea.
  • Reading a few pages of a book.
  • Colouring in.
  • Watching TV.
  • Going for a short walk.
  • Catching up on sleep.

I have learnt, it is vital for us carers to have a rest and feel okay in order to be able to provide the best care to our loved ones. It does not make you any less of a carer for needing help, ask for it if you need it. Your mental health is important. I always think what would I say to my cared for if they felt like this and then I say that to myself because if it was my cared for struggling with their mental health I would tell them to get help. Us as carers sometimes need to take our own advice and I have learnt that!