Christina is a carer for her adult son who lives with mental illness. She’s been caring for her son for most of his life, and has had him living with her full time for the past seven years. Christina shared her experiences as a carer and some of the change she wants to see in the community and by government to improve the situation for carers.
How has being a carer impacted on your life?
The biggest impact has been the fact that I have to manage and organise two lives, two schedules, two sets of appointments, two sets of responsibilities. It’s like being in charge of two lives with only half a life to fit it all in. Being an unpaid carer means being on-call 24/7 for your loved one.
I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my career and in my life to support my son – basically I’ve given it up for my son to make sure he has the best care that he can possibly have. It's overwhelming and exhausting most days, but I wouldn't change it for the world, I love my son more than anything.
It’s also had an impact on my relationships. I have friendship with other carers but I don’t have a partner and there’s really no opportunity for me to meet anyone while I’m supporting my son full time at the moment. I don’t feel supported in a way where I could go and meet people who are interesting.
People who aren’t carers don’t seem to understand what it’s like. Especially when they meet my son, because it’s not always obvious that he is unwell.
Do you think the government is currently doing enough to support carers?
No, absolutely not. We struggle from week to week. If it hadn’t have been for the Foodbank during the COVID-19 lockdown we wouldn’t have survived; we go to the Foodbank every week.
The job that we do and the dedication that we put into what we do is so overlooked. Carers suffer illnesses ourselves from exhaustion and stress and overwhelm of constantly having to care for someone else and we neglect caring for ourselves. We shouldn’t be living like this – carers are so overqualified and underpaid for what we do and it would cost the government probably 10 times more than what I get from the Carer Payment to pay for someone else to do the same job.
I don’t feel like we’re a priority for the government. Because we’re so exhausted from what we’re doing we don’t tend to pop our heads up very often and make a noise. So we’re very easily overlooked. Carers seem to be an unheard voice in a large ocean.
What do you think people in the community can do to support carers?
They say that it takes a village to bring up a child and I think this applies for carers as well, who need that community support. This is especially the case when it comes to mental health carers – there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness in our community and people need to realise that what they see on TV is usually an extreme case of someone being unwell. Sometimes it can get that bad, but quite often people with mental ill-health are kind and compassionate and loving people. So a little more understanding from the community would be wonderful.
Mental health stigma has also impacted on my relationships with my family. I don’t see any of my family – my son occasionally sees them but they don’t like that he’s not “normal” – they can’t figure out why he can’t just change his ways. It’s hard not having that support network around you. It makes for a really difficult time – you feel completely unsupported and you just have to go it alone, like we’re so used to doing.
Is there anything else you want people to know or a change you want to see for carers?
Another thing that me and carers I’ve spoken to have found difficult is knowing what services and supports, like grants for example, are available. We also need support to access technology so we can connect with other carers while we’re in our homes. Connecting with technology is one of the biggest areas where carers have been forgotten about.
At the moment, in the lockdown, everyone in Victoria is experiencing what many carers experience all the time. We may not be physically locked down, but quite often we still can’t leave our homes because our loved ones are unwell or they can’t be left at home alone. So what we’re going through in Victoria, carers have been going through for years. Everyday.