At only 15, Jade* has spent much of her life caring for family members who live with mental illness, and other health and neurodevelopmental issues. Jade’s twin brother, older brother and father all experience anxiety and depression, as well as being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This has had a significant impact on Jade’s own mental health.
It’s tough being the child of a parent with a mental illness, as well as having siblings with mental health issues and disabilities. People need to understand that it can, and does, affect everyone in the family.
Jade reflected that as a twin, teachers often depended on her to help support her brother at school.
When we were at the same school, my brother’s teachers relied on me to be his main support. Even in kinder, I was always the one who had to help him … Whenever he got angry, they pulled me out of class to calm him down because the teachers said they didn’t know what to do … A lot of time the adults used me as the de‑escalation tactic, rather than learning how to do it themselves.
Jade has experienced challenges with her education as a result of her caring responsibilities and her mental health. Jade felt that at her previous school, the support that was put in place for her ‘petered out’ and the staff did not fully appreciate the effect of her mental health on her education. When Jade’s mental health forced her to miss a term of school, she was disappointed none of the teachers or wellbeing staff reached out to her.
I’m really committed to my studies and like to be involved in all the clubs, so for me to suddenly stop coming to school was really unusual. I feel like I could have been dead, and my school wouldn’t have even noticed, because they completely ignored all the warning signs.
Jade has recently moved schools and now feels much better supported. However, there are still some challenges.
Some teachers have started to do the ‘but you got an extension on the last test’ thing, as though they think I’m making an excuse. As a carer, it’s not a once‑off thing like someone being sick and getting better. It’s as though some teachers think this can’t just keep happening, but being a young carer does just keep happening.
Although my teachers don’t really understand the extent of my caring life, my school counsellor has a good understanding because [my mental health service] did a proper handover.
Jade speaks about the importance of handovers being comprehensive, and the effects of repeatedly telling her story when they are not done well.
The hardest thing is having to tell your story all over again, especially for me, because my story is my whole life … It’s very draining and also I feel every time I have to tell my life story again, it gets a little less important. It’s as though I get so used to it, it loses value.
Jade would like to see better recognition of her role as a carer, as her mother is often seen as the only carer. Jade strongly believes that young carers have valuable perspectives and notes their opinions are often overlooked.
It is really important to listen and respect the opinions of young people. I think people may assume I am an over‑dramatic teenager, but I have had significant life experience … [O]ur age doesn’t necessarily define what we know. Our lived experiences are resources that should be utilised.
Source: Personal Story of ‘Jade’ (pseudonym), Collected by Tandem.
Note: * Names have been changed to protect privacy.