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Being a carer

Who is a Carer?

You're a carer if you offer care and support unpaid to someone else who needs help with their day-to-day life. This may be because of:

  • their frailty
  • a long-term illness
  • a disability
  • mental health problems
  • substance misuse

Carers may be family members (including children and young people) who live with the person they care for, or even family, friends, or neighbours who live elsewhere. This is not the same as someone who provides care professionally, or through voluntary sector organisations. 

A carer may help with tasks such as washing, dressing, using the toilet, getting someone up or helping them to bed, shopping, cleaning, laundry and making meals. The caring role can also include providing emotional support, and childcare responsibilities. The care may mean keeping an eye on people who are confused or at risk if not supervised, or encouraging them to do everyday things for themselves. 

Lots of people provide this type of care for family members without it impacting on their lives. However, when you're looking after another person who requires a significant amount of support each day, there are likely to be times when you need some additional help and support. However much you care about the person you are looking after, it's important that you look after yourself too.

A young carer is anyone who is under the age of 18, and who looks after a family member who is physically or mentally ill, disabled, or misuses substances. This may be a parent, grandparent,  brother, or sister.

A young carer may be carrying out household tasks such as washing, cooking, and cleaning on behalf of the whole family. They may provide personal or nursing care such as giving medication, changing dressings, assisting with mobility, or intimate care such as washing, dressing, assisting with toilet requirements, or giving emotional support.

Naturally, this can feel stressful or overwhelming at times. Sometimes you may feel under pressure to take time off school to help around the house, or may not have time to go out with your friends, do homework, or play. Many young carers find it difficult to talk about being a carer. They worry that people will think they aren't coping, or that their family will be split up if they don't carry on with their caring role. 

But it's important to understand there are health and social care charities and organisations there to help and support you, so you can balance your responsibilities with your personal life, and not miss out on things.

This section explains what support is available to you as a carer and where to get it - whether you're a young carer, an adult caring for a child with disability or an adult looking after another adult.

Please see our section on the left for other useful links, such as Carer's emergency planning which tells you how you can get a Carer's Emergency Card.  You may also find our Living Well with TechnologyEquipment to Help at Home and Technology for independent living pages useful if you're looking for gadgets and equipment for the person you care for.

Other information and advice

The NHS has partnered with Public Health England, Carers UK, Carers Trust, and Age UK, to produce a guide for carers called A Practical Guide to Healthy Caring. This guide is for anyone looking after a family member or friend, or who has some kind of caring responsibility. It covers a wide range of subjects from what it's like to care for someone, to assessments, getting help, and useful technology.

The Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) has some useful resources for carers, and provides free courses across Essex which help carers manage their caring role. For further information visit the Support for Carers page on the EPUT website.

Essex Libraries offer a variety of services and activities that may benefit carers. If you find it difficult to get to the library, you could receive the Home Library Service, or ask about a Friends and Family card. Alternatively, access e-books, e-audio, e-magazines and online resources at a time to suit you, from wherever you are. Many libraries hold regular drop-in sessions, advice desks and social activities; have a look at the events list for the latest information. Libraries also have booklists that you might find useful if you are caring for someone with dementia, mental health problems or long-term conditions.

Healthwatch Essex has some advice young carers might find useful, in their guide to health and well-being for young people. The Useful contacts button on that page has a good list of local and national organisations that are keen to support young carers.

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