A lot of people think carers are saints, they don’t think of them as human beings. But they are real people who suffer from isolation, stress and burnout. As a carer, it is very important to try to look after yourself and stay connected. I know this from experience.
I started caring in the late 1970s for my sister, a gifted artist who developed schizophrenia. At the time my sister first starting exhibiting symptoms, there wasn’t really any information out there and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t understand what was happening. It took many, many months to get a diagnosis. It was very difficult.
She took herself off medication as it affected her art, and as a result she wasn’t very well. As a single mother of three, I was now also responsible for caring for my sister and her little boy, who subsequently developed schizophrenia as well.
The caring went on for a decade. My nephew ultimately took his own life, and my sister died eight weeks later. It was like a nightmare. I don’t think there are words to describe it. My son then developed depression and bipolar disorder and I have been his carer ever since.
Attitudes are improving slowly, but the stigma surrounding mental health issues does have an impact on carers. Many people are embarrassed, ignorant and fearful of mental illness, and carers do not get the support they need. They’re invisible.
Caring is constant and can be very hard. At first, I didn’t know how to cope. I was a single mum with three children looking after my nephew and sister as well. I started to drink at night. This is not uncommon. Thankfully, I learned healthier ways of dealing with things – journaling and meditation.
This is why it’s so important for carers to connect with others by using resources like the SANE online forums. These are completely anonymous. You can share your experiences, seek advice, or just read about what other carers are going through.
Join the SANE Forums at saneforums.org, or for more information about mental illness visit sane.org.
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