Unsung  heroes

Mental Health Week Feature:  7 – 14 Oct

OUR family was wrecked,” says Terry.

“Mental health just isn’t ‘I’ve got something wrong inside me’; it’s an explosive package that people don’t understand.”

These aren’t the words of a mental health patient, but those of Terry, who gave up work to become carer of his wife, who suffers from mental illness.

“Shelley used to self harm,” says Terry.

“One day she just had a complete breakdown; she just stopped functioning as a person, she just…stopped.

“It was like holy crap, what do we do now.”

Terry is just one of the many unsung, “forgotten” carers who bear the psychological brunt of looking after a family member with mental health issues.

• A scene from Terry’s Story.

And it can often be harder for male carers, who find it uncomfortable to discuss mental health issues with their larrikin buddies.

“You go to your mates and say ‘Listen I’m quitting work because my wife’s got mental health problems’ and they look at you and go, ‘What—tell her to get over it’,” he says.

“I had to go from being dad and working, to being mum and dad. So you had to learn to do everything.

“I think it was very emotionally draining and it also physically drained me.”

Terry is one of many carers profiled by mental health support group HelpingMinds, which has released a series of YouTube videos featuring families affected by mental illness.

In a raw, unflinching interview, tears well up as Terry describes the impact his wife’s illness had on his family.

“Shelley might have mental health problems, but it affects five people in our house,” he says.

“For years I took it all on myself.”

He eventually found solace at HelpingMinds, a place “where you can go and just blurt out what you’re struggling with; and that’s what you need—a place to go and talk to other carers and have a cup of coffee.”

He says he still struggles every day to cope, but will never give up because he loves Shelley.

“Don’t ever give up. You can’t, it’s the biggest job in the world and you can’t quit…that person depends on you. Strive to find any help you can and take advantage of it.

According to a recent study commissioned by Mind Australia, an estimated 240,000 Australians care for an adult with a mental illness.

To view more carers’ stories go to the HelpingMinds YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMLPtLCROZfQJSncu-YTzPw

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