Twenty-year-old carer wins national learning award for helping teenagers with their mental health
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A young carer who set up a club where young people can talk about their mental health has won a major award for learning.
Alisha Morgan, 20 from Penrhys is a full-time carer for her mother Heidi, who has almost 20 different medical condition including early onset dementia.
At 17, Alisha was suffering with her own mental health challenges and, paired with looking after her mum, felt she had no choice but to leave her college course. Life was tough and a difficult balancing act, and following the suicide of a family friend, Alisha became depressed.
She enrolled on a mental health first aid training course, which helped her find coping mechanisms for what she was going through. That course led to her finding the support to go back to college, inspired by the care she and her siblings Nicole and Ryan give to her mum.
Alisha has now been awarded with the ‘Young Adult’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her success in changing her life through learning.
Co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards reward those who have demonstrated the power of learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.
As a team, they take care of her mother every day, from managing her medication, cooking her meals to washing.
Alisha said: “I had lots of experience taking care of someone who was really ill, so I thought why not make healthcare my career? I was fascinated by all the theory and science of it all. When you’re caring for your mother you don’t think about the tasks you do throughout the day, you just get on with it.”
Determined to forge a successful career, she is now working towards her Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social care at Coleg y Cymoedd with plans to be a paediatric mental health nurse.
She said: “The college is so supportive. It’s still really challenging and there are days when I sit in class knowing I’m going to get a phone call to say mum has taken a turn for the worse, or I’m thinking about the medication I need to organise. But they’re really flexible and understand my homelife.”
As well as caring for her mum and going to college full time, Alisha set up Ferndale Youth Club for young people, including those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
She said: “At my lowest, just after our family friend had committed suicide, I was caring for my mum and trying to keep afloat with my college work. I became extremely depressed. Every day was a struggle. I was caring for my mum, then rushing straight to college. I never went out and didn’t have much of a social life, there weren’t many opportunities for me to talk about what I was going through.”
The youth club is open to people aged 11 to 25 - a topic is chosen each session and the members talk, on everything from depression, anxiety and grief, to ‘Love Island and shopping’.
She said: “I’ve suffered with poor mental health myself, so sometimes it’s hard for me to talk about things such as grief but it also helps me spot signs. We talk as a group or sometimes one on one, it’s just nice to know that you’re not alone and other people have similar experiences to you.
“Running the youth club is a lot, but it also gives me some time and space on my own to chat to other carers or people dealing with grief. I’ve made so many new friends who I can chat to or check in with on social media. Being a young carer is all I know. It is hard sometimes, but you have to just keep going.”
Alisha is now on track to complete her diploma, after her last placement was paused due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
She said: “I want to be a paediatric nurse specialising in mental health. I will keep on pushing to make my mum proud.”
Alisha is one of 12 winners who feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, a week full of taster sessions and masterclasses aimed to inspire others to follow in their footsteps, which this year takes place online from 21-27 September.
Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, said: “Even without a ceremony it’s so important that we celebrate the Inspire! Awards winners whose determination has been extraordinary.
“Alisha is a great example of how lifelong learning has turned her life around, both professionally and personally. Gaining qualifications at any age will not only help us build a workforce with the right skills needed for the new normal, but also inspire people to keep learning to explore directions and keep their minds and bodies healthy too.”
David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “'There has never been a better or more important time to start learning and our Inspire! Award winners show just what is possible. Whether it is gaining skills to help you find a new job, improving your health, or learning something you have always been passionate about, now is the time to pick up the phone or go online to get the support you need to start your journey.
“During lockdown thousands of adults across Wales started to change their story by learning something new. We hope the incredible stories of all our award winners will inspire thousands more to take that first step back into adult education.”