Those Who Take Care of a Parent or a Family Member with a Mental Illness
People who have a family member with a mental illness can be strong supports for this family member when they are not well. However, caretaking is hard work that can leave a person feeling tired and drained. It is important to know how much one can give before they need support of their own. Have you ever given too much? Where do you turn for support?
Below are some real-life stories based on young people who have been young caregivers.
Darin's Mom is Feeling Sick
Darin is a 12-year-old boy who had helped take care of his mom for as long as could remember. His mother was often sick. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and borderline personality disorder. When Darin’s mom was sick, she would have a hard time leaving the house and would need lots of help. Even as a young child, the local store employees all knew Darin because he would often go to the store to get food and supplies for his mom. The shop owner would even let Darin pick up mom’s medicine because he knew both of them. Darin knew that it was a lot of work to take care of his mom, but he didn’t care. It was what he had always done and his family always came first.
There were times when Darin felt like he had to put his life on hold for his mom. Darin often missed school because his mom needed him at home. His mom told him he should go, but he wanted to stay home and take care of her. Darin eventually got in trouble and school told him that he might have to repeat a grade because he missed too many classes. His mother helped him get into online classes to make up the credits. Darin’s social worker at school saw what was happening and found resources to help mom at home so Darin could go to school. Darin continued to support his mom and help out a lot, but now he was able to be a student too. He even had time to hang out with friends and try out for the basketball team. Darin was relieved that his mom was getting extra help and he could do things with other kids.
Jameel and His Three Sisters
Jameel, age 16, is one of the most popular kids in his school. He is bright, athletic, and gets along with everyone. He has made the honor roll for the last three years and he is the fastest kid in the school. Most of the other kids think Jameel has a perfect life. What his classmates don't know, is that Jameel spends most of his time at home taking care of his three younger sisters.
Jameel's mother has a condition known as schizophrenia where she often sees and hears things that aren't there. She also has unusual thoughts and thinks that people are out to get her. Because of these thoughts and hallucinations, she isn't able to work and stays in her bedroom most days to feel safe. She wasn't always like this. When Jameel's mom and dad got married, his mom was outgoing, social, and had a job as a kindergarten teacher. Jameel's dad was in school to be an electrician, but had to drop out to take care of Jameel's mom when she got sick. Now he works really long days to make enough money to support the family.
Jameel knows that his dad does everything he can to support the family, but wishes he could be home more. Jameel's mom is usually too sick to take care of the 8 year old twins and his 4-year-old sister. Jameel has become a young caregiver. Everyday before he goes to school, he gets his sisters up, makes them cereal and drives them to school. On days when his sisters are sick, he sometimes stays home to take care of them, especially if mom is too sick. Jameel's teachers have noticed that he misses school on these days and sat down and talked to Jameel. Jameel told them what was up and they now send his homework to the house on those days and give him extra help. The school has even began sending him home with a backpack of groceries to help out on really hard days. They also gave him the number of the school social worker who he can call if he needs extra help. Being a young caregiver is hard sometimes, but Jameel loves his family and does what needs to be done. He has extra adults that support him when it's a bad day.
Do you know anyone like Jameel or Darin? What do other young caregivers have to do that most kids don't have to? How would you get extra help if your parent was sick and you had to take care of your brothers or sisters?
To learn more about young caregivers visit the American Association of Caregiving Youth