Mental health conditions in young carers are very common. Counselling is very valuable, but recent engagement by Healthwatch Essex established that the service in the county is not easily accessible.
Essex’s Emotional Wellbeing & Mental Health Service (EWMHS) has an approximate 18 month waiting period for new referrals, so most young carers do not access counselling. Most interventions are not timely because young carers are not being identified until they are at crisis point.
We visited Carer’s Choices and Carers First Services in Essex to understand more about the challenges faced by young carers. Julie* and her children, Matilda*, 7, and Teresa*, 9, were attending a group that day and shared their story with us.
Julie said: “Teresa has been diagnosed with high anxiety, depression and has talked about killing herself and others over the past nine months. She is an insular child, has high levels of anger and is on the autistic spectrum but she also helps to look after her younger sister, Matilda.”
Julie feels that much improvement is needed with EWMHS. She was referred to the service three times and waited for three years for an initial appointment after an assessment at school.
Julie said: “When I called to chase up the appointment, EWMHS told me to go to A&E if I was really worried. Eventually I was told that they wouldn’t be taking Teresa on as there was nothing they could offer her. I’ll still not sure why that is.”
Julie told us that Teresa did see a counsellor for six months and really enjoyed the sessions, but the counsellor terminated them because ‘they were not getting anywhere’. She has now been to the young carers group three times. Julie made a self-referral after hearing about the group from another mother at school.
Julie said: “She enjoys coming to this group. She made a raft with them recently which she really liked. She remains worried that Matilda will come to the group but I have reassured her that won’t happen as it’s time and space for Teresa by herself.”
Julie told us that the family have had no support apart from the young carers group, and she now hopes to find something similar for Matilda to attend. She said that Teresa hates to think that she is ‘different’ in any way: “Teresa won’t allow herself to be called beautiful. I believe she hates herself. She struggles socially and the friendships she did have broken down. I suspect that she is bullied to some extent at school.
“You get a diagnosis and then are left wondering what the purpose was, because nothing happens or changes. It’s so hard to find any support’.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the family