How to cope with a crisis as a young carer

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Trigger warning: This article includes references to psychosis.

Hi I’m Rosario, I help care for my mum who suffers from mental illness. I have recently finished studying for Social Policy Masters at university in York. I want other young adult carers to feel the goals they want to achieve are possible and that they aren’t alone. Family always comes first for me.

Learning to cope with a crisis as a young carer

The onset of an episode of mental illness in a family member is a nerve-wracking experience. It feels like anything could happen next. My mum suffers from mental illness and psychosis. The signs of an episode beginning start with changes in the way she speaks and behaves. It becomes apparent her reality is different to what I am experiencing. The way I have coped with this is through humour, compassion, listening and trying to get gently get her back to reality.

I will make little jokes to ground her and try and get her to think differently. If she feels frightened, I reassure her. If the illness takes too strong a hold and the delusions become too distressing, these things do not help. There is nothing to be done but get medical intervention. A challenge when my mum is ill, is that she is not aware that she needs help. In the past, it has been the police who have taken my mum to hospital, not an ambulance. It is upsetting as she is not a criminal.

Coping with a crisis in the hospital

Time spent in a psychiatric hospital can also be considered a period of crisis, it puts a lot of strain on both the carer and the unwell family member.  I remember visiting my mum for the first time in hospital during a major episode where I was scared for her life for about twenty-four hours and felt some relief that in hospital at least she was safe. The experience of visiting the psychiatric ward was less scary than I’d envisaged, I had been over nervous beforehand but both staff and patients were kind and friendly.

I did not realise at the time how much the period my mum spent in the hospital took a toll on me. A friend I met up regularly at that time told me recently I seemed sad, flat and like I was going through the motions and unlike myself. It is hard to see a parent go through extreme highs and lows in hospital for months without knowing when they will leave and can join family life at home again. With an illness like my mum’s, there is never a period where a crisis is not potentially looming. Echos of the symptoms of the episode reappear and there’s the constant worry will this lead to another episode.

Preparing for a crisis as a young carer

Identifying and researching symptoms of the cared-for person’s illness can be helpful. The charity Mind has helpful pages with this information.

Make sure you have all of the relevant details of the medical team for your loved one, for example, their Crisis Team or Community Nurse if they are receiving that support before resorting to calling 999.

Getting help for yourself is also important. The Mix offers a short term counselling service via telephone or webchat for young people aged 25 and under. If you are caring for yourself, you will be able to be a pillar of strength for the person you care for. It may be hard to practice self-care during a crisis so it’s important to be in the habit of going for walks, reading, meditating or whatever it is that makes you feel good because you deserve it.

Finding help for a crisis

Help and resources are also available through charities like the Carers Trust and local charities,it is worth researching and getting in contact with them directly or through your local council. I have been supported by Carers Support Wiltshire after my mum left hospital and it feels reassuring that if another episode of illness happened I have somewhere to turn for support and understanding.

Tips for dealing with a crisis at school, university and in the workplace

If your loved one is going through a crisis and it is affecting you and your family, the most important thing to do is tell others to get help even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. It is scary as you may feel you could be misunderstood or feel shame for struggling to balance your studies or work and home life. You deserve help and support. If you are at school, tell you, teacher, and if at work, tell your boss.

At university, your supervisor should be the first port of call to guide you and your university department. Contacting the student union at university could also be helpful. At most universities, there will be a process for exceptional circumstances which needs to be backed up by evidence. My Support Worker at Carers Support Wiltshire wrote a letter to my university explaining my situation which helped me get an extension during my Mum’s illness. It is worth telling your boss, teacher or lecturer before a time of crisis that this could affect your work or studies.

Further reading about dealing with a crisis

’The Collected Schizophrenias’ by Esme Weijun Wang is a series of honest essays written from the personal perspective of someone who has suffered from psychosis and has been in a psychiatric ward. This book helped me gain an understanding of how mental illness and psychosis could feel.

If you need support dealing with a crisis as a young carer

Read Rosario’s piece about caring for someone with a mental health condition.

Find support from other carers by joining The Mix’s young carer group chats.

Read The Mix’s guide to caring for someone with a mental health condition.

Get specialist help and support for young carers and young adult carers from the Carers Trust.

Next Steps

  • Carers Trust is a major charity for, with and about carers. They work to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of unpaid caring.
  • Carers UK equips carers with practical help and advice. Meet others in the same position and get the support you need by joining Carers UK's online forum.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Rosario

Updated on 13-Nov-2020

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