‘I was there to look after my family 24 hours a day’

Around 30,000 young Scots have to care for relatives - responsibilities made more challenging during lockdown.

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Sixteen-year-old Zuhair Alhamdan is among 30,000 young Scots tasked with caring for others.

The eldest of four children, he helps look after two of his siblings, who have a genetic condition.

Since lockdown hit last March, Zuhair has had to take on a number of other challenging responsibilities.

He tells his story in the new STV Children’s Appeal documentary Where’s Your Head At?, which looks at the impact of lockdown on young people’s mental health.

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“Balancing my own time, studying, and helping with the family – I found those three variables really difficult, especially in lockdown when my family really depended on me and I was there 24 hours a day,” Zuhair says.

“And I think the fear of getting Covid and endangering the family was great.”

Zuhair and his sister Layan, 13, are members of Perth and Kinross Young Carers Voice (PKAVS), a service which offers support and respite.

Young carer Zuhair Alhamdan helps to look after his family.STV News
Young carer Zuhair Alhamdan helps to look after his family.

Now restrictions have eased, they’re finding comfort in meeting face to face with fellow young carers, sharing their experiences and helping each other.

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A recent study by Carers Trust Scotland found that more than half (59%) of young carers had to increase their caring hours during the pandemic, taking its toll on their mental health.

Adie Shepherd, a support worker for young carers, says: “If we do establish anything or notice that there’s any mental health concerns, if there’s anything that has come out during our visits, then we can refer on to our counselling service [for] one-to-one support.”

Meanwhile, there are concerns that conditions such as Long Covid have created even more young carers across Scotland. 

Raymond Jamieson, PKAVS Carers Hub manager, says: “Prior to lockdown, young carers had challenges and stresses and anxieties, and responsibilities that you would usually associate with an adult, but certainly Covid enhanced that greatly.

“If there was shopping to be done, or bills to be paid, or a visit to the pharmacy to pick up the medication, they wouldn’t want the cared for person to do that because they’d wanted them safe in the house.”

Where’s Your Head At?, a documentary as part of the STV Children’s Appeal, is on STV and the STV Player at 8pm on Tuesday, October 26.