This young person had no choice but to help her mother battle schizo-affective disorder. This is the story of how a mother and daughter learnt not to go it alone.
Being a kid with a parent with a mental illness isn't as bad as people think it could be. I’m 17 and have a mum who has a mental illness. I was born into it, I had it all my life. It’s funny that I'm even saying, ‘I had it’ when it’s my mum who has the illness.
My dad died when I was eight. He had protected us from Mum's illness, and after he died I took on a bigger role in caring for her. This included household cleaning and, from when I was about ten, supervising Mum's medication. It was exhausting.
My mum’s moods go from very high to very low. She also hears sounds that others can't hear and believes 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 would argue with her, and then my brother would 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 was only then that my aunt explained Mum's illness to me.
My aunt talked about ARAFMI, the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill. They gave me information booklets and I went to a Young ARAFMI group where I learnt more and was encouraged to talk about my feelings. I also began to do my own research.
Then I got in touch with Carers NSW and attended a Young Carers' Camp. Attending Young ARAFMI and my first Carers' Camp really opened a door for me and I let go of everything that I felt had been weighing me down. 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!
Most of my friends now know that Mum has a mental illness. They’ve seen her when she’s well and also when she’s been ill. I ran workshops at school about my experiences with mental illness. There was an enormous response, with kids coming up to me afterwards asking lots of questions and being 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 Mum’s 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 now.
I’ve just finished my HSC and I’m looking for work in sales. I do lots of voluntary work, including work with NSW Young Carers Association and basketball coaching. I’m gaining my certificate in basketball coaching.
What would I say to kids who are in the same situation? Your best key is honesty. It unlocks a gateway to lots of paths and opportunities. You’re 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.