Sunday 14 June 2015

Being a Carer and Mental Health

- Sophie Dishman

I am a carer. I’ve cared for individuals in my family with mental health problems. I also have mental health problems myself. I understand both sides of the coin. I have been a carer from the age of 11. I am 21 now, so I’ve been caring for half my life. I believe that I’ve had mental health problems from a young age. I also think that my caring responsibilities have had an impact on my mental health unfortunately. 

I care for and have cared for people in my family that have mental health problems - ranging from dementia to depression. It isn’t easy at all, especially when you are trying to care for yourself, look after a sibling and go to school. I got used to it in the end, because being a carer is normal for me. It’s something that I do naturally. It’s been that way for 10 years now, so it’s really all I’ve known. My grandma and granddad used to care for my great-grandfather who had dementia and had one of his legs amputated, among many other health problems. 

My mental health problems started to come to a head last year when I hit a point where I was struggling too much. Something triggered them off and it spiralled. My caring responsibilities were heightened during that point too, which made things more difficult. I was at college too which made things harder as I had a lot of coursework to complete. 

It isn’t easy having mental health problems and being a carer yourself, but unfortunately many carers these days have mental health problems too as well as caring for others. It’s a reality for us, as grim as it may sound. We have responsibilities that we shouldn’t have at our age. Even though I’m an adult now, I didn’t have much of a childhood from the age of 11. I had no friends and became isolated, keeping myself in the house. I’m living my adult life but I’m experiencing things that people experience as teenagers. It’s surreal. 

I should probably go into why I think my mental health problems stem or have something to do with my caring responsibilities. Caring for 5 people is difficult, as they all have varying needs, some more severe than others. Your time is spend caring. You get little time for yourself. There is a physical and emotional toll on your body and your feelings. You get tired a lot, stressed out and there is little time for yourself. That’s the hardest part. 

I developed low-self esteem from around the age of 12. I didn’t have a lot of confidence, despite what people said to me. I became worried a lot too. I worried about my family, my health, myself…everything. I managed to keep things together though. I just preferred to be on my own. Something I still prefer these days. I then started having obsessive thoughts at around the age of 14, but I won’t go into this. For a few years, I kept this to myself. No-one knew, because I was the ‘strong person’. Then it all changed last year. 

Being a carer is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love my family. There are a lot of benefits that I have gained from being a carer - from skills and qualities to opportunities like being on national TV. I also get to spend time with my family - a lot more time, which is always a good thing. It is a ‘pitiful’ role to play within a family, but it’s also very rewarding.

Hope Support have created a guide for university students who support family members, written by young people, which offers tips for students in similar situations: Support through a Family Health Crisis

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