This article was written by Young Carer Ambassador, Catarina, for Carers Week 2021.
I didn’t know I was a Young Carer until I was 22.
I knew my mother had a mental illness and disability well before this time though. I thought the definition of the word carer was far different than what it is, and I did not fall into that box. Carers are perceived to be older, kind of like a parent, and someone who takes care of another’s every need. Even though I did quite a lot for my mum, I just viewed this as normal and that everyone my age did as much as I did.
My mum also helped me a lot, I have a disability myself, and because my mum took me to my appointments and looked after me when I had countless surgeries. I did not view myself to be a carer for my mum. Because of this view, I never sought out the support that was around, nor did I know there was any support to be had.
For me, I grew up faster than I would have liked, I missed out on a lot as a child and situations caused me a lot of anxiety. I am the second youngest in my family of five siblings. When I was younger, each one of my siblings took on different roles to help mum. My dad passed away in 2000, then a year later my mum was in a car accident, in which she sustained injuries that gave her a lifelong disability, she also has depression along with this.
When I turned 16, a lot of the roles that were spread amongst my older siblings and I soon became all mine. Luckily, around this time I was involved with Wanslea, and I was a participant in their COPMI program. Being a part of this group gave me the knowledge I needed about mental illness, I was also given some support and I was given the opportunity to participate in camps and activities which allowed me to meet other teenagers in similar situations, but most of all, to be a kid. They helped me out a great deal, giving me the knowledge and understanding of my mother’s mental illness. Soon after, I became a Peer Support Worker in the program I was once a participant in.
Sometimes I do not want to be a Young Carer, not because I don’t love my mum, it’s just because I missed out on so much. I grew up too fast and got into an adult mindset and because of this, I didn’t feel like I had many people relate to which put a strain on me being able to make friends or even maintain these friendships. However, being a Young Carer has made me who I am. As I grew up, I was often told that I was very empathic and kind, that I saw every side to arguments, and I have a strong understanding of people in general. I narrow this down to being a carer. There are many strengths I have that I am quite fond of, they are empathy; I can pick up almost instantly if someone is upset, a downfall of this is that I also take on these emotions, I have a lot of kindness and understanding when it comes to people’s needs and I always try my best to help where I can. I am quite close to my youngest brother, however, because he is younger and I took on a parent role, it is often hard to turn this off and it can cause conflict.
Even though I was older when I found out I was a Young Carer, I feel incredibly lucky to be receiving the support I am now. However, there are a lot of young people that go without help, or even having any knowledge about what a Young Carer is. The definition of a carer varies across cultures, and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who perform caring roles may not necessarily identify themselves as carers as it is classed as respect to look after elders, etc. For example, being Indigenous myself, I know a lot of us look after family members without ever taking any acknowledgement. Though we tend to do it gladly in some cases. There is a lot of diversity between Young Carers; though we all look after someone, that is one thing we all have in common.
I think that there needs to be more support for the invisible Young Carers. Yes, it is very hard to determine if someone is a Young Carer, but there are signs that I think professionals such as teachers, doctors, police, and other professionals should be able to tell. This can be done in various ways; however, the key point is education and understanding.
Being a part of The Young Carer Advocacy Project and creating a policy report which could mean the change to many young people’s life in similar situations as I once was means so much to me. I am forever thankful to be able to be a part of this team, I am just one voice in a sea of many just hoping for someone to hear us.