Support networks and courses help young caregivers facing burnout

Taking a course for caregivers taught university student Oscar Koh how to help two of his friends suffering from depression and family abuse, while also taking care of himself.

"While I was glad that I could be there for my friend, I felt burnt out and suffered from sleep deprivation because I could not find time for myself and I had very little social interaction with others," said the 27-year-old, recalling how in the past, he had found himself drained while trying his best to make time for the two peers he was supporting.

"Through this course, I realised it was good for me to lay down boundaries and carve out time for myself."

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) undergraduate is one of more than 5,000 caregivers trained by Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) over the past eight years.

Mr Koh joined the Young Caregiver Programme in March this year, after learning more about it during a collaboration between CAL and SIT.

Launched last year, the eight-week programme caters to those aged 18 to 35, equipping them with skills and knowledge to better care for loved ones and themselves.

The programme was set up in response to rising demand and adapted from a 12-week course that CAL has conducted since 2011.

A spokesman for CAL said: "We witnessed an increasing number of young caregivers to family members or friends with mental health conditions coming forward to seek help. There were also some who just wanted to be equipped with mental literacy knowledge and skills to help others, or even themselves."

Between May last year and April this year, CAL observed six reported cases of suicide and five of attempted suicide among caregivers' loved ones. "Without adequate support and knowledge, caregivers themselves may be at risk of developing mental health conditions," the spokesman added.

Through virtual sessions with CAL's facilitators, participants share their experiences and learn from other caregivers on how to create healthy boundaries and devote time to themselves.

Participants also get a chance to forge friendships and develop their own support network.

CAL maintains a relationship with programme graduates via regular engagement events and its Caregivers-for-Caregivers Support Group Programme.

Other organisations here have also helped the youth to beef up caregiving skills.

HCA Hospice Care, whose patients are mostly the elderly, has a Young Caregivers Programme which has engaged more than 127,000 students across primary, secondary and tertiary schools since 2005. The programme includes workshops helmed by facilitators from HCA to spread awareness among students about illnesses and palliative care.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the programme also included a visit for students to a HCA day hospice centre, where they could interact with patients directly.

About 76 per cent of students in the programme reported that they were able to apply the skills they learnt during interactions with the elderly through the service learning project.

HCA's assistant manager of volunteer management and engagement Lionel Chai said the programme's main objective was to spur students to reflect on caregiving for their own family members and the wider community.

He added: "Behaviours and actions are not changed overnight so this is a seeding programme where we hope to nurture youth from a young, impressionable age and influence them to develop into empathetic young caregivers who are mindful of the elderly's needs and palliative care issues."

• Find out more about CAL's Young Caregiver Programme at https://www.cal.org.sg/caregiver-training and HCA's Young Caregivers Programme at https://www.hca.org.sg/Young-Caregivers-Programme

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2021, with the headline 'Support networks and courses help young caregivers facing burnout'. Subscribe