A TEENAGER from Fordingbridge has spoken of her battle to do well at school while spending up to 19 hours a day looking after her mother.
By the time Laura (not her real name) has finished preparing dinner, clearing up and doing household chores in the evening it can be 10pm.
Then if her mother, who has arthritis and is battling depression and has spoken of suicide, is feeling low she may have to sit with her until 1am.
She also gets up at 6.30am so she can do all she needs to do for her mother before going to school.
But Laura says she hopes she is still doing well at school and is hoping for good A level results in spite of all the other pressures on her.
Laura has spoken out during Carers' Week, a national event aiming to highlight not only the strains faced by an army of unpaid carers, but also the help and support on offer.
Now 18, Laura wants to go to university and study performing arts or dance but, because her mother’s health is deteriorating, she may not feel able to go.
She said: “My mum has a form of acute arthritis and severe depression. As well as this she has several other health problems but these are the ones that affect her most.
“Her arthritis affects her spine, muscles, ligaments and bones. This affects her mobility and makes most tasks a struggle.
“When I was at primary school I would help out with the washing and even knew what medication she took.
“My caring role increased as my mum’s health got worse and this started affecting me more as I stopped going out with friends because I was dependent on mum dropping me off and picking me up.
“When I am at school she has paid carers twice a day, who help her tidy up and prepare food. But she feels uncomfortable with them doing her personal care so I help her with it instead.
“One of my brothers now helps out more than he used to and realises how hard things can get. This helps me a lot as it can give me a break and has made us closer. Being a young carer is emotionally and physically draining and with the added pressures from school there are times it feels like everything is crashing down and I have broken down at school.
“Most teenagers worry about exams but I tend to get scared of them as I’m never sure if I’m going to do well because I don’t always have time to revise and with this added pressure I sometimes go into panic mode and think that I’m going to do badly. But so far (fingers crossed) I am doing well.
“Giving my mum physical support is fine but the emotional support is what I struggle with the most. My mum’s depression gets so bad at times that she has told me she doesn’t want to live anymore. Imagine hearing this from your own mother and how heartbreaking it must feel.
“When she gets like this I always remind myself that it is actually her depression talking. It’s not her. When she says this I end up worrying more and there are times when I can’t sleep and get up many times in the night to check she is okay and is still breathing.
“Usually when my mum gets into that state I get in touch with New Forest Young Carers and let them know I’m struggling.
“I have been involved with them for four years. I was assaulted at school and I had counselling afterwards and opened up about my mum.
“Before this, I had never heard of young carers and thought that I was just a normal teenager. I thought most kids helped like I did.
“I went on a trip with them and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I met other children who are in the same position as me and I felt I could let my hair down and be a teenager and have fun. And I made friends easily. I think looking after my mum has made me into a caring|person – I would rather struggle myself and know she is okay.
“Mum – I love you and will always be here for you no matter what or where I am.”
MARIE Shotbolt runs the New Forest Young Carers, part of Community First New Forest.
She said: “We see someone as a young carer if they’re up to the age of 18 and have someone in the family with a serious illness or disability.
“So it could be mum has MS, a brother has autism or dad is bipolar. Thankfully, most of our young carers are helping someone else look after their relative rather than being the sole carer. And for a lot of them it’s about providing emotional support and keeping an eye on someone rather than physical care or household chores.
“Officially we work with young carers aged between seven and 18, but we will carry on after that if needed, especially if someone is still in full-time education.
“We’ve already taken teenagers to university open events to help them start planning their futures and it’s really wonderful to hear someone tell you that for the first time, they’ve realised they can go to university and to see how excited they are now they realise they don’t have to miss out on those opportunities.
To see what help is available to you, contact Sara Winteridge on 01425 654426 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.