How Being A Carer Under Austerity Impacts My Mental Health

The last few years, austerity has leant heavily on families like ours. All this hacking away at services has piled incredible financial, physical and mental strain onto families like mine.
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This week brings us both Carers Week and, more under the radar, Men’s Health Week – both obviously, and critically, including mental health.

Mental health acceptance is finally being allowed to venture into the light. With a staggering one in four of us experiencing mental health issues at some point, you could be forgiven for thinking that in our community of care that stat should be four in four. Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men, however tragically the rate of male suicide is still very high, every year the numbers are rising, the statistics are there to see.

I have suffered from mental health issues since I was a teenager. Lately, I have been head down, pouring my past struggles into prose, in the hope of publishing it. By delving into the past, I inadvertently found the points in my life where my mental illness began. However, it has taken becoming a parent to a disabled child to exacerbate everything, not because of my daughter’s existence – but because of societies attitudes, and the never-ending struggle to simply allow her access to all she is rightly entitled to.

Stressful life experiences, including lack of social support and having to plan for the future of your disabled child, are the rains watering the seeds of depression. In the space of the twelve years of her life, I have fallen to the point where I was under the watch of appalling local mental health services, I have seen my depression metamorphose into bipolar disorder, felt the intense burn of anxiety, allowed my weight to fall to dangerous levels and listened to the darkest voices in my head, encouraging and pushing me to the edge. Constant campaigning online and in the media has also fed the darkness. Trolling on Twitter, messages of hate and threats on Facebook Messenger, all attempting to crush what simple mental strength I have left. I have been rescued by family and friends from the edge so often, the guilt of laying this on them palpable. The constant torturous guilt of laying all my woe onto my exceptional wife the biggest Catch 22 of anxiety.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way – as I said, my wife having to toil away keeping one eye on me while at the same time providing loving care for our daughter, has also fallen under the shadow of the black dog. She equally burns with the blackness, putting on support and strength, keeping our family going. Often she will burn out and reach out, we support each other absolutely, we can talk, and talk is your biggest weapon in the fight. Male or female, mental illness has no prejudices – unlike, it appears, our government.

The last few years have seen the system lean heavily on families like ours. Through cuts to benefits and more, all this seemingly inhuman hacking away at services has piled incredible strain financially, physically and mentally onto families like mine. You could be forgiven for thinking we reside in an ableist society.

In an austerity-ravaged system, nearly every relationship in the area of parental care are all equally burdened with mental illness. It seems depression and its cohorts are the unwanted gifts to us all as we do our damnedest to make life the best for our collective children. We have to be the ones to fashion the change for them. Left to the powers that be and the system, we would be still in the dark ages. We fight, love, work, worry and grab a few hours’ sleep. We push away thoughts of the future for our children when we are not there. We busy ourselves with wants and rights and all this combines to feed a condition that is allowed to flourish through lack of investment and ignorance.

Our children come first, every time, but we must learn to function. There are numerous ways to cope with mental health. Online support from great charities are there, please look. This community, I have learned recently, is also there for you 24/7. We must be more open, with ourselves and friends, there is no shame in depression. If you are still reading, don’t be silent, stay in touch with people, use your family, try mindfulness, it’s not a cure but it can help centre your thoughts. You are not alone, there are thousands of us in similar situations, reach out, our stories are similar, our lives entwined, words win wars, every time.

Being a parent with mental health problems does not make you a bad parent. Children living in a household with parents suffering a mental illness does not mean that child will experience abuse or negative consequence. In fact, nearly all these children go on to achieve full potential in life. My wife and I, although both equally battling demons and ignorance, talk, support and love each other utterly.

The spectre of depression may appear at times, but it will not win, no, humanity and family will. Remember this, it may be raining now, but the sun always comes out again. A storming sea will calm again. In times of real anxiety it may be hard to remember. But remember, life is not about how you survive the storm, but how you dance in the rain.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.