‘Young adult carers: Making choices and managing relationships with a parent with mental illness’

Author(s): Kate Blake-Holmes
Publisher: Advances in Mental Health
Year Published: 2020
Resource type: Peer Reviewed Research Article


There are limited studies that explored the needs of young carers who care for parents with mental illness. These young carers might be doing so much and seem fine yet get highly exhausted and stressed. We also know very little about what happens to young carers during transitions to adulthood, where they are expected to make very serious life decisions about their schooling, relationships, living situations, employment, and more. Young carers in this stage might not be able to act on their independence because they might have less control over how their life unfolds. They might have limited agency and be restricted in some ways. This study
aimed to unfold how adults who care for parents with mental illness make sense of their experiences and whether caring for parents with mental illness impacts their adult lives. The researchers conducted biographical interviews with 20 young carers who ranged between 19-54 years (average age was 31). They asked them to tell them a story from their childhoods to the present day. The results showed that participants spoke about the impact of this type of caregiving on their education and employment, relationships, decisions to become a parent, ability to exercise agency, and set boundaries. Overall, participants reported trouble engaging with and furthering their education or employment. Next, they spoke about their difficulties developing or maintaining relationships with partners, because they devoted a lot of time to their parents. Some of them noted that their partners did not understand, or they had anxiety to even enter a relationship. Several of them spoke about deciding not to have children because they did not want to become ill themselves. Some spoke about the tremendous impact caregiving had on their relationship with their parents; if they had children, they were scared to bring their own children to see their parents and limited visits. They lacked personal agency to be able to balance their own needs with the demands of their parents’ illness. Sometimes, they tried making boundaries and even sought professional support to manage the impact on their lives. While they spoke about the negative impact, they noted some positive aspects to their role. They reported to learn skills and to have a resilient mind-set that allowed them to cope better.


Citation: Blake-Holmes, K. (2020) Young adult carers: making choices and managing
relationships with a parent with a mental illness, Advances in Mental Health, 18(3), 230-240.

Keywords: Young adult carers, parental mental illness, transition, agency

Where the data was collected: United Kingdom