Mothering mum

They had no choice but to help their mother battle schizo-affective disorder. This is the story of one young person who learned not to go it alone.

Redhead girl looking at her window reflection
He had protected us from Mum's illness and after he died I took more of a role in caring for her.
Being a kid with a parent with a mental illness isn't as bad as people think it could be. I am 17 years old and have a mum who has a mental illness. I was born into it! I had it all my life - funny that I'm even saying "I had it" when it was my mum who had the illness!

My dad died when I was 8. He had protected us from Mum's illness and after he died I took more of a role in caring for her. This included household cleaning and supervising Mum's medication from when I was about 10 years old. It was exhausting.

Mum has schizo-affective disorder. That means her moods go from very high to very low, as well as her hearing sounds that other's can't hear and believing things when she's unwell that aren't true. Like the time she thought I wasn't her daughter.

When I was her primary carer, Mum sometimes refused to take her medication - I argued with her and then my brother would come and step in. There was a lot of yelling and screaming!

When I turned 15 my brother moved out and I spent a year living alone with Mum. It wasn't until I was that age that my mum's illness was explained to me by my aunt. She talked about ARAFMI - Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill. They gave me information booklets and I went to a Young ARAFMI group where I learned more and talked about my feelings. I began to do my own research.

Finding help

Then I got in touch with Carers N.S.W. and attended a Young Carers' Camp. Attending Young ARAFMI and my first Carer's Camp really opened a door for me and I let go of everything. I felt great!! Being open about it, having people to talk to who understand and can give you a big hug... You can't beat it! Now most of my friends know that Mum has a mental illness. They have seen Mum when she is well and also when she has been ill. I ran workshops at school about my experiences with mental illness. They were received very well. There was an enormous response as kids came, asked questions and were really curious. I squashed some of the myths and stories around mental illness. My story has touched a lot of people.

I can't control her illness - I wish I could! What I can do is call the Mental Health Centre so that Mum can have her medication. This time she went to the Centre to have an injection and ended up having to go into hospital. That happens about every two months at this stage.

Now I have just finished my H.S.C. and I am looking for work in sales. I do lots of voluntary work including work with N.S.W. Young Carers Association and basketball coaching. I am gaining my certificate in basketball coaching.

What would I say to kids in the same situation? Your best key is to be honest. It unlocks a gateway of pathways and lots of opportunities. You are limiting yourself if you keep the door closed. Talk to someone you trust - it's a huge relief and helps break down the stigma of mental illness.
Last reviewed: 16 February, 2014
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