There has been nothing more heart-breaking than knowing the most important person in my life has had many aspects of theirs destroyed by severe episodes of mental illness with highs, lows and psychosis. If sharing my experience can help anyone else who’s been in a similar situation feel less alone or help others gain understanding, it’s worth it, despite being very hard to write about let alone say out loud. We all have mental health we need to care for; it shouldn’t be a source of shame.
Beyond helping with practical things and giving reassurance and love, there isn’t much I can do to help, which is hard in itself. Being a carer for someone with a mental illness involves patience, emotional understanding, a non-judgemental attitude, being alert to any signs of illness and knowing the right people to contact in that event.
I might have a lot more freedom and less responsibility in some ways than a young carer looking after someone with a physical illness but emotionally it affects me a lot.
When I was little, sacrifices were made. My family chose for me not to be around my mum’s illness fully until I was older, which meant I spent most of my time after school and on weekends at various childminders. Early experiences shape who you are and this has had a lasting effect.
I didn’t understand completely what was happening at home but felt a strong sense of something being different. I felt a gap where I would have liked to have been closer to my family and find myself now having a daily struggle and from as far back as I can remember experiencing some form of anxiety. What’s strange is that even in the happiest moments this will often be lurking in the background.
Caring for someone with a mental illness has its own unique challenges due to the “invisibility” and “intangibility” of the illness. My mum has treatment resistant Schizophrenia and Bipolar but in her day-to-day life no one would know. I have struggled a lot with feeling unable to explain my family life and upbringing to people and struggle to be fully understood, which can feel incredibly lonely. I worry that there is still too much stigma around mental illness. If there were more discussions about those suffering from it, their loved ones would feel less alone.
I am lucky enough to have gone to university. I was helped to study at the University of York through an access scheme. I struggled greatly at times due to my mum becoming incredibly unwell twice during and it took me longer to complete my studies. I would like universities to be made more aware of the role of young carers.
I have witnessed distress and hurt at first hand caused by episodes of mental illness. When things do go back to ‘normal’ there’s the question of how long will it last. In 2018, I visited a psychiatric ward often several days every week from July to January for the first time since I was a toddler. I’ve never met such real and kind people as the patients and staff and I feel lucky to have been given an insight into something not many people see. There was a lot of humour and people built each other up in ways I hadn’t seen before, despite great suffering.
I’m 25 now. Growing up I never really thought of myself as a young carer. I only found out about the young adult carer service last summer and started to get help and support then, and I think a lot of young carers growing up are in similar situations.
I wish my mum did not have an illness but am grateful to be her daughter. Her illness and the incredible strength she has shown despite suffering has not only inspired me but helped me want to be empathetic and understanding of other people as much as possible.
I would like to help other young people to see the positives in being a carer and to feel proud of how they help in whatever form it takes.
Carer Support Wiltshire helps young and young adult carers, and also those caring for someone with mental health illness. If you’re not already registered with us, you can register online or call us on 0800 181 4118. Our website just for young adult carers can be found at yacbook.co.uk.