Caring for someone with a mental illness

Family life, from even the most ideal accounts, is a mixed blessing. It may take a long time to have an awareness of the effects of living in the particular family you've come from. When there's a parent in the family with a mental illness there may be more to take account of in the mix.

Often as a student, it may be difficult to work out what is distracting from studies or may sometimes cast a shadow over wanting to have fun and make relationships with others at University. It may be that you're still living with family members, or living with family patterns, that influence current relationships.

You may identify with some of the things that have been said by students who live, or have lived, with a parent who has a mental illness:

  • "I think I lost my childhood!"
  • "None of the labels of mental illness matched what it was like to live with someone who had the illness."
  • "I didn't realise until I was older that my family was so different from other people's."
  • "I felt guilty about leaving home and leaving my brother behind."
  • "I think I learnt a lot about taking responsibility very early in life."
  • "I often felt like I was being a parent to my parent."

Many people don't identify with the term carer. However you may have found yourself looking after a parent. Perhaps a lot of energy in your family was taken up with issues about care.

Supporting family or friends can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. It’s important to take care of yourself while caring for someone else, and get the support you need.

What can I do next?

  • Start exploring practical information and resources for carers at Carer Gateway, an Australian government initiative. There is help and advice to support carers including tip sheets, phone counselling, an online carer forum, self-guided courses, and information on respite and financial help.
  • Explore the Carers Victoria website to access services, support, and information for carers in Victoria. They can connect carers to a wide range of services including counselling, funding support, respite, education, and training.
  • Access online resources on supporting family and friends and explore a helpful list of service options for carers at Reach Out, an Australian online mental health and wellbeing organisation for young people and parents.
  • Read resources on mental illness and what can help on the Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) website. COPMI is a national initiative that develops information for parents, their family and friends, and children and young people in families where a parent experiences mental illness.

If you'd like more support, come along to one of our workshops or make an appointment for individual counselling.

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