About three in 10 adolescent young carers in the UK think about self-harming, and more than 10% contemplate harming others – often the person for whom they are caring, a study suggests.
There was no evidence that these carers represented a real threat to others, but the finding is indicative of the constant pressure and feelings of isolation that characterise their day-to-day lives, according to the research.
Researchers questioned 2,100 adolescent carers in six different countries, alongside 5,000 non-carers of the same age, as part of the first cross-national study of the health and well-being of adolescent young carers.
For the study, these carers are defined as people aged 15 to 17 with caring responsibilities for a family member or friend.
The findings raise concerns about the pressures and mental health impact of caring on young people approaching adulthood.
Although the study indicates that some adolescent carers benefit from the experience, a significant number showed signs of poor wellbeing and distress.
Asked whether, because of caring, they had thought about harming themselves, 14% of the entire sample of adolescent carers said they had, but the figure was twice as high among carers in the UK (28%).
The percentage of all UK adolescents who actually self-harm has been put in previous studies as between 13% and 19%.
Some 6% of the entire sample, and 12% of those in the UK, said that because of caring they had considered hurting someone else.
Of those who said they had considered hurting someone else, about 45% said that the other person was the care recipient.
Some 36% of those surveyed across all six countries, and 56% in the UK, said their mental health had deteriorated because of their responsibilities.
And 17% (37% UK) said their performance at school had suffered and 15% (36% UK) reported being bullied about caring.
Psychometric tests further showed significant numbers whose wellbeing levels and experience of caring were “of potential concern”.
The pan-European study, the Me-We Young Carers project, aims to understand how best to protect the mental health and wellbeing of adolescent young carers, using data gathered from carers aged 15 to 17 in Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
Professor Saul Becker, from Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education, said, “A significant number of adolescent young carers are experiencing real difficulty, isolation and distress.
“The results do not mean they would actually hurt someone, but it is clear they sometimes feel desperate.
“That can manifest itself in various ways: they may get into trouble at school, think about hurting themselves, or feel as though they want to lash out.”
Most adolescent carers said they did receive some support, but Prof Becker said this “varies in quality and quantity”.
The report argues that support for adolescent carers needs to be widened far beyond the available services such as young carer projects
Andy McGowan, head of engagement at Caring Together, which supports carers in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Norfolk said the results reflected specific pressures affecting the 15 to 17 age group.
He said, “At this age their caring responsibilities often grow.
“They then have to balance those commitments with challenges that affect all adolescents: college work, applying for university, or trying to get a job.
“The pressure just builds and builds.
“A substantial number feel absolutely at the end of their tether and as if there’s no ‘off’ switch; no way out.”
He added, “As it stands, the available support for managing their transition into adulthood is patchy at best.”
The research is published in the International Journal of Care and Caring.