Completing a university degree can be demanding, and for some, their reality involves doing this whilst caring for a sick or disabled family member, partner or friend. Student contributor Dona Sirimanne shares her insights into balancing caring for a loved one while studying.
When you are caring for a loved one while studying, it’s useful to let your faculty know about your situation as they can offer help or direct you to someone who can. Your lecturers and tutors can offer simple extensions on assessments and may be able to organise with you to deliver some content online if it isn’t already available in this way. You may also be able to satisfy attendance requirements through taking on additional written work if you are unable to attend classes in person.
Studying while caring for a sick or disabled loved one can understandably cause stress and anxiety as well as other issues. The University’s Student Counselling Services can help. They offer appointments via phone or Zoom. You can also ask a parent or friend to speak to them for you if that is an option for you. Alternatively, the University has a team of student peer support advisors who can answer questions, offer guidance and friendly help over Zoom. You can register for an appointment online. The university also offers a 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Line. You can call 1300 474 065 or text 0488 884 429 (to chat on SMS).
You may be wondering how to explain your care responsibilities to others when asking for assistance. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to disclose everything. You don’t have to go into great detail about the person you care for, or their medical condition. You only need to talk about the extra responsibilities you have in caring for someone and how this affects being at university and completing your work.
You can also inquire about special arrangements that might help you. For example, you can ask for extra time to catch up on work from home, such as catch-up lessons, take-home work, or accessing note-taking services. You can also negotiate later deadlines for assignments which may require you to apply for special consideration, as well as any other supports that might be available. Even if you’re not seeking special arrangements, it’s a good idea to let your faculty know about your situation so that they understand if there is an emergency or if your caring affects your study.
Your time at university can be made easier when you can share your experiences with others who are going through similar realities. Utilising sites such as Facebook can help you to find others within the University who are also carers and can provide you with a community of support. An example is the USYD SRC Disabilities Collective & Caregivers Network. Outside of the University, you can access support via the carer forum available through the Australian Government’s Carer Gateway.
Additionally, the Young Carers Network website has information on studying while you are caring, and you can call them on 1800 242 636 if you’d like to talk.
Studying while caring for a sick or disabled loved one is no easy feat, remember that you are not alone and that you can always seek help and advice.