When you have to take care of another

Author: Vanessa Phillips

Looking after yourself as you look after others

Nick is a youngster, who’s still at school and identifies as a young carer. 


“As a carer I cook, clean and mentally and physically support my mother and siblings. If there is an outburst or tantrum at home, I’m always there to calm things down. Like life itself, there are challenges that come with caring; these can be emotional, physical and mental challenges,” says Nick, who is registered with Young Carers at Carers New South Wales, Australia.


Nick isn’t a qualified carer. He’s just a young man who was the only one in his family who could take on the role because of his mother’s debilitating depression and heart condition. 


Nick is one of thousands of carers who aren’t paid to support their loved ones who need help due to disability, old age, mental illness, a chronic condition or terminal illness. 


But despite the challenges he faces, Nick has support; both from his local carer program and school. But not all carers do.


Support is key to being a carer


You may not even recognise yourself as a carer. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Youth Studies in 2011 explained that it was well-known across multiple sources of literature that those who cared for someone they were close to, didn’t recognise themselves as a formal carer. 


But a carer could be someone like you, or someone like Nick, who has had to take on the role of caring for a loved one. And you, like Nick, might need more support than you think. 


The reason for this is because you may start to have unrealistic expectations that your care should improve the condition of your loved one, you might feel obliged to care out of obligation rather than choice and you may become frustrated with the circumstances you likely have no control over. As a result, your own health may be neglected. 


So, what do you do?


Caring for the carer


You have to admit to yourself that you too need support, and here are some suggestions that the Mayo Clinic give on going about it:


  • Accept – You need help, accept it. If someone offers something – no matter how small – accept the help. You’ll realise how good it feels for someone to do something for you for a change. 

  • Focus – You’re doing the best you can with the situation you’re in. Focus your energy on that instead of the ‘imperfections’ you may currently be facing. 

  • Be real – Your goals should not overwhelm you and leave you feeling like a failure. Set small goals and tasks and manage them before moving on to the next. If others ask you for their help, don’t feel obliged if you already have too much on your plate. 

  • Connect – Keep up relationships outside of those for whom you care. Close friends should understand if they need to make an extra effort; and hang onto those that do! Connect with other carers in your community as an additional form of support.




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