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To find inspiration for my own blog post, I started reading other writers’ touching and wise posts here on Nyyti’s website, mainly to get a sense of the situations students are now experiencing and facing, what’s worrying them, and what’s a source of strength for them. I’m a member of Carers Finland (Omaishoitajaliitto), an organization that has primarily worked with the elderly for a long time now, so our strengths don’t lie in having in-depth knowledge of the world in which young people live. However, informal care—helping and caring for physically or mentally ill, disabled, or elderly family members—is a very diverse phenomenon, and it involves people of different ages and in different stages of their lives, including children, young people, and young adults.

It’s estimated that there are 350,000 informal carers in Finland. In addition to elderly carers, there are lots of working-age people who take care of, for example, their parent who suffers from cognitive decline and dementia or their special-needs child.

Only in recent years, we have started to realize and recognize that in addition to the abovementioned people, children and young people may also deal with needs and worries that arise from supporting and helping a family member mentally and physically. Sometimes, a family’s whole nurturing paradigm may have been reversed. This is a new and foreign thought for a lot of people.

More Information About Young Carers

There’s at least a few decades’ worth of research on the caring circumstances of children, young people, and young adults. In academic literature, the term young carer is used for carers under the age of 18, and the term young adult carer refers to young adults up until the age of 25. In Finnish, the term nuoret hoivaajat (young carers) has been coined, but we know very little about them at the moment. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s school health survey (Kouluterveyskysely 2019) was the first population-level data source regarding the help and care provided by children and young people. Of the 12–19-year-olds that answered the survey, around 6 percent said that they care for a loved one weekly or daily. This is in line with the 2–8 percent young carer demographics found in many developed countries.

Based on survey data, a study (Nenonen et al. 2020) reports on the strains related to the care. Young people who have to adopt a carer’s role are less satisfied with their life, and schoolwork-related exhaustion, depression symptoms, anxiety, and loneliness are experienced by this group more commonly than by other young people. In addition to their studies, young carers have jobs, and they feel in disproportionate numbers that their family is struggling financially.

The study’s overview of young carers’, and especially young female carers’, circumstances is largely in line with previous findings reported in international research on young adult carers. For example, a Norwegian population-level study (Haugland, Hysing, Sivertsen, 2019) examines the prevalence and effects of care duties in students of higher education institutions. Out of the 40,000 students who took the survey, around 5.5 percent talked about their carer duties.

Those with carer duties reported more mental health issues, insomnia, and somatic symptoms, as well as a lower degree of life satisfaction than non-carers. In their conclusions, the researchers highlighted the importance of recognizing this issue and developing support systems.

From Silent and Invisible to Visible and Being Heard

A recurring theme in young carers’ descriptions of their situation is that they feel invisible. They’re not getting noticed, and no one asks them about their thoughts or how they’re doing when they apply for services, and sometimes this applies to their closest personal relationships, too. It’s even possible for them to see this as the only normal way to live and to not reflect on the situation from a personal wellbeing standpoint. Sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of you.

At the same time, they may feel an unexplainable longing for an adult’s presence as well as a need for help and support. Feelings of being different and being alone can become a lifelong burden if there’s no way to share these feelings and experiences with another person. It’s important to talk about the things that are weighing you down.  If you can’t confide in anyone around you, you can find a professional with whom to speak, for example, through student health services and several other organizations.

In Tove Jansson’s beloved Moomin stories, Ninny the invisible child only becomes visible to others once she gets really angry. Just like Ninny, young carers have a need to be heard and seen, with all of their emotions, thoughts, and needs.

It’s important to ask “How are you?” and to listen closely. Young carers’ stories are constantly being told all around us. We just have to tune our ears to hear them.

It’s important to identify young carers. That’s our starting point.

More Information About Young Carers, With Your Help?

We have very little information about young adults’ care situations, need for support, and thoughts. If you recognize a care situation in your current life or past, please take this survey (unfortunately only in Finnish, but you may answer also in English). The link will remain active until the end of November. Every bit of information is valuable because it will help develop the right support systems. The survey is completely anonymous.

A NyytiTalk on October 1 talked about young carers. You can watch a recording here (in Finnish)! Also take a look at the Jangsterit project website.

References:

Haugland, Hysing, Sivertsen, (2019) The Burden of Care: A National Survey on the Prevalence, Demographic Characteristics and Health Problems Among Young Adult Carers Attending Higher Education in Norway. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6989434/

Nenonen T, Heino M, Hedman L, Klemetti R, (2020) Lapset ja nuoret perheenjäsenten hoivaajina. Kouluterveyskyselyn 2019 tuloksia. In Tutkimuksesta tiiviisti 24/2020. Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki. https://www.julkari.fi/handle/10024/140414

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