Around 100 young people who care for someone with a mental health condition enjoyed an adrenalin-packed day at Pleasurewood Hills on Friday (02 June) during a special event organised to give them a break from their caring roles.
The ‘Reach for the Sky’ event gave carers aged between 11 and 18 from across Norfolk and Suffolk the chance to visit the Lowestoft theme park to take some time out and socialise with others in a similar position while also finding out more about looking after their own health.
It was organised by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), with support from Feedback, a service user-led forum in Great Yarmouth and Waveney, and a variety of local carer groups. Local businesses also donated refreshments.
“The day was a great success and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves,” said Howard Tidman, a Senior Practitioner with NSFT’s Acute Services who is based in Great Yarmouth and organise the event.
“These young people face a lot of responsibility in their role as carers, which they have to juggle alongside school work and other commitments. It was really nice to give them the opportunity to have fun, socialise with others and enjoy the rides at the theme park.
“We would like to thank Pleasurewood Hills, Feedback and Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers, as well as all of the businesses and individuals who supported the event for making it a day out to remember.”
Case study - “Knowing other people who were in the same situation would have really helped me”
A carers champion who works for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has spoken candidly about looking after his mother throughout his childhood to raise awareness of the vital role which young carers play.
Howard Tidman, who is a Senior Practitioner with Acute Services based in Great Yarmouth, cared for his mother Pat from a young age, throughout her battle with alcoholism until her death in 2005.
He feels the experience not only influenced his decision to pursue a career in healthcare, but also played a key role in shaping his passion for supporting other carers.
“At times, it was horrific,” said Howard, who has worked for the Trust for 15 years and frequently organises carers forums to raise awareness of the support which is now available. “I would come home from school and find my mum asleep on the sofa drunk. It got to the stage where I was embarrassed to bring friends back.
“My mother’s alcoholism made her very unpredictable. She was either not interested or incredibly over-interested – there was no middle ground. I ended up almost being put off coming home. Instead I’d leave school and go into the city and spend two or three hours nursing a cup of coffee in a café and making it last until they turfed me out at 6pm.”
From a young age, Howard found himself juggling the demands of school with domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning. At the time, there was no external support available for young carers.
He explained: “My mum received intermittent support from alcohol services, but there was nothing for me as a young carer. I don’t think anyone even recognised that we were having to put up with so much – I just thought it was the norm.
“I think that knowing other people who were in the same situation would have really helped me. Having an adult to act as a mentor rather being left to steer my own ship would have also made a big difference, especially during my teenage years which are not an easy time for anyone.
“There are now a lot of young carer support groups available, although I still think that the carers themselves do not necessarily recognise that they may need help – they just think this is how life is.
“I hope the event at Pleasurewood Hills will raise awareness of all of those young people who are looking after brothers, sisters and parents so that we can identify them sooner, provide support and put networks in place to help them in what is a very difficult role.”
Case study - “I do feel like I’ve had to grow up quicker than my friends”
A teenager who helps look after two members of his family has spoken about the pressure and responsibility his caring role brings and the importance of taking breaks to help him to manage.
Callum has cared for his dad, who has bipolar disorder, for the past eight years, and more recently started looking after his disabled nan, who is housebound. The 15-year-old also takes responsibility for his six-year-old brother when his mum is at work.
He juggles the roles with his school work, and is currently studying for his GCSEs.
“I tell my dad when to take his tablets and keep him company when he is feeling depressed or overwhelmed so that I can try and take his mind off things,” explained Callum, who lives in Great Yarmouth and whose father receives care from NSFT at Northgate Hospital. “I’ve got quite good at it over the years and it makes it easier for everybody if he is able to stay calm.
“I make cups of tea, do the dishes and the vacuuming, and look after my dad when my mum is at work. I also go and see my nan every week and help with her housework and shopping.
“It’s difficult because if I’m not worried about my dad, I’m worried about my nan. Sometimes I get to go out with my friends but I can’t leave my dad if he is feeling bad so other times I have to say no. It can feel like I’ve missed out a bit.
“Caring for someone is a lot of responsibility and you do feel a lot of pressure, especially when you have school work to do too. I think I’m more mature than other people my age as I always have to think of things from another perspective.
“I do feel like I’ve had to grow up quicker than my friends.”
Callum takes a break from his caring duties once a fortnight by attending sessions run by Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers (GYGYC), which give him the chance to socialise with others and enjoy activities such as bowling and swimming.
He also went to Friday’s Reach for the Sky event at Pleasurewood Hills, which NSFT arranged to give around 100 young carers the chance to have fun and enjoy some time away from caring.
“My dad likes it when I manage to go out as it gives me a break,” added Callum. “The young carers group is really good as it’s a chance to come and meet other people who are in the same situation so you don’t feel like you are the only one.
“I also really enjoy going to Pleasurewood Hills – its good fun.”
Case study - “I had to leave childhood behind and grow up quicker”
A 16-year-old who has spent nearly her entire life in a caring role has spoken of how the stress and responsibility led to her own battle with depression.
Danielle Degenhard has cared for her dad, who has bipolar and a sleep disorder, since she was five. She also started looking after her mum around three years ago after a mini stroke combined with arthritis left her barely able to walk.
As well as making sure they both take their medication, she does most of the cooking, shopping and housework while also helping her mum with personal care, such showering and getting dressed.
The teenager, who lives in Great Yarmouth and is training to be a chef, said the pressure of caring for both had caused her depression, but after receiving help she has now fully recovered.
“I used to find it a struggle when I was at school, but am now at college which gives me more free time to look after my parents,” said Danielle, who celebrates her 17th birthday in mid-June. “The stress used to get a bit much and I started to get depressed, but I had some help from Mind and that has now lifted and I feel better.
“I had to leave childhood behind and grow up quicker because I’m a carer, but think it of it all as experience for when I’m older and will have to look after myself. It can be stressful and I can’t always hang out with my friends when I’ve got to do caring, but I do want to help my parents so have just got used to it.”
Danielle has been going to fortnightly sessions run by Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers (GYGYC) for some time, and enjoys taking time away from her caring role.
She added: “I’m very close to my dad and found it really difficult to understand what was happening to him to begin with, but the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers (GYGYC) group really helped.
“It’s also nice to be able to get away from caring sometimes by doing things like going to the carers group and for the day out at Pleasurewood Hillls.”
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