Children and adolescents who provide care to a family member or friend, play an important role in serving those suffering from chronic illnesses, disabilities, addictions and other conditions. It is estimated that at least 8 % of children in Europe have some caregiving responsibilities. With the support of the EU, the ME-WE project’s team of researchers and NGOs is working to put young carers on the map. “Our goal was to improve the mental health and well-being of young carers, ensuring they have the support they need to live and thrive just like other children,” says Elizabeth Hanson, professor at Linnaeus University, Sweden. Many of these young carers have assumed a level of responsibility typically associated with an adult. However, as this caring role takes place behind closed doors, they often remain invisible to society and are largely unsupported. “As a result, this group struggles in terms of their education and faces discrimination, mental health issues, social stigma, and exclusion,” says Hanson.
New ways of providing support
To start, researchers studied young carers’ profiles and preferences in Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The collected data included demographic information, along with insights on their mental well-being and support needs. Researchers also provided an in-depth review and evaluation of existing legal, policy and support frameworks for protecting and supporting young carers. “Our data highlighted the severe impact that providing care, especially high-intensity care, has on young people’s mental health,” explains Hanson. “Due to a lack of support and awareness, this population experiences isolation, depression and sometimes even self-harm.” Based on this information, researchers worked with current and former young carers to co-design an innovative mobile application capable of providing this population with professional and peer support from a distance. The app is currently available on Google Play and the Apple app store. The project also developed blueprints for online and face-to-face interventions that professionals and schools can use to support young carers.
Increasing resilience and well-being
An evaluation of these support mechanisms showed that they increased the resilience, mental health and overall well-being of young carers. Participants said they enjoyed the activities carried out in the project, regardless how they accessed them, and stated that they had learned useful things through the intervention. Most of the participants also reported that the intervention made them feel good about themselves. Two thirds of the participants considered that the person for whom they cared was better off because of their participation. Furthermore, positive changes were mentioned by participants as regards their handling of stressful thoughts and feelings. The ability to be more kind and forgiving to oneself and/or to take better care of oneself was also commonly reported, as was the ability to complete homework and do well in school. “Now I know how to recognise the voice in the back of my head and what I can do to not be negatively influenced by it,” says one young carer. “These interventions helped me grasp certain situations, listen to my feelings, and know what to do when I’m feeling pressure or sad.” “I’ve learned the value of myself – I’ve gained better self-esteem, I no longer feel alone, and I’ve even made new friends,” adds another. “As a result, I now feel better than ever!”
ME-WE, young carers, caregivers, intervention, mental health