Often times, young caregivers may feel invisible. Their efforts and sacrifices may go unnoticed as they juggle their priorities with the responsibility of caring for a loved one. Young people have become increasingly relied upon as caregivers for loved ones in need of long-term care. In fact, there are over 1.9 million Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 providing up to 20 hours of unpaid caregiving to family members with long-term illnesses or disabilities — and that number is continuing to grow.
Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but without the right support it might come at the expense of your personal, professional, or academic life. While this sacrifice might seem noble, the harsh truth is that you can’t take care of someone else unless you take care of yourself first. Avoid caregiver burnout and learn to cope with feelings of stress by seeking out help when you need it. If you’re at a loss for where to start, The Family Care Office has compiled a list of resources to help you navigate your journey in caregiving.
Caring for a family member or friend is often a long-term commitment, one that can shape who you are well into adulthood. The Young Carers Project’s guide, Support Matters: A Guide for Young Carers and Their Allies provides helpful insight on how young carers can practice mindfulness and self-care to tend to their own identity, emotions, and relationships while juggling their caregiving responsibilities. The guide also makes suggestions to both individuals and institutions about how we might be able to offer support to the young carers in our lives.
Another great resource is the Looking After Myself booklet from Rethink Mental Illness, which offers an introduction and guide to navigating life as a caregiver as well as methods and resources to cope with the stresses that come with it. Self-care is not selfish, and these resources can help you address the pressures you may be under and lead you towards solutions.
Support groups and external care resources can alleviate some of the stress that comes with caregiving responsibilities. In fact, studies show that when young carers have access to social services, they can enhance their social and emotional development, build a sense of competence, and nurture empathy and compassion.
The Caregiver Exchange can connect you with services and support groups on a range of topics, including: support for caregivers, care facilities, care at home, end-of-life care, and support for mental health and addictions. The Young Carers Program was founded in Toronto and has also developed a list of resources to meet the needs of young carers and their families, with programs specific to ALS, Alzheimers, cancer, Cerebral Palsy, HIV/AIDs, mental illness, and other health issues. This resource also includes links for emotional support and financial resources targeted towards young carers. For resources regarding financial, legal, and healthcare support, The Ontario Caregiver Organization offers tips and guidelines on how to navigate these systems.
The following resources and books aim to shed light on the caregiving experience, and share the knowledge caregivers have gained through their own experiences.
- The Young Caregivers Association provides information for children who have found themselves acting as young carers.
- The Vanier Institute of Information has a selection of articles uploaded for free that explore the nature of young caregiving.
- Carers Canada offers a comprehensive overview of the action being taken to create social services for young caregivers.
- The Young Carers Project has filmed a documentary that follows the lives of five young carers.
- The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself, by Linda Abbit, is a compassionate guide that emphasizes the importance of caring for yourself while you care for a parent or aged relative.
- The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation from Loved One to Caregiver, by Donna Thomson, provides original caregiver research and proven advocacy strategies.
- The Young Caregivers Association has also compiled a list of books targeted towards children and adolescence that deal with themes of caregiving.
With an aging Canadian population and overburdened healthcare system, it is likely that many of us will find ourselves in a caregiving position at some point in our lives. Whether you are a young caregiver or are reliant on a young caregiver, it is important to know when and where to ask for help and take care of yourself in the process.