Tina* is 68 years old and cares for her sister, Faye*, who is 71 years old and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In my family and our tradition, my mum always told me, ‘you have to look after your sister’.
Tina also cares for her husband, who suffers from a severe depressive illness. Tina talked about the challenges that they have had accessing and receiving support from both the aged care system and the Victorian mental health system.
Tina and her sister emigrated from China, and following her marriage breakdown, Faye started to experience a decline in her mental health. At the time, she was receiving some support in the adult mental health system and in‑home support from a community‑based non‑government organisation. Faye’s mental and physical health declined significantly after a period when the service failed to visit her several times, and there were no services attending her home.
At Christmas time, nobody was going to support her. The organisation who was meant to support her forgot about her.
Following an accident when she tripped on an escalator, Faye refused treatment for her physical injuries. In another incident she had her nose, chest and ribs broken late at night in the city. Tina related that ‘[s]he soldiered on for a while but eventually, I had to take her to hospital.’
Tina said Faye’s mental health declined considerably after this. She was admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit and was administered electroconvulsive therapy.
At this stage, Faye moved in with Tina and she was linked with an aged persons mental health service, which provided Faye with community‑based case management support. Faye is also currently on the waiting list seeking approval for support from the Commonwealth aged care system. Tina spoke positively about her experiences with the aged persons mental health service but expressed concern that nobody is monitoring Faye’s medication closely enough. She needs to ensure that Faye is taking it.
Every night I have to check Faye has swallowed her medication.
Tina also highlighted how her own physical health difficulties have had an impact on her ability to care for her sister. She said that Faye appears to be in better physical health than her, despite Faye being older. Tina applied for an aged care package for herself but this was rejected. She has, however, been able to receive some funding through a carer consultant at the aged persons mental health service.
I look after two people with mental health challenges alongside my physical illness. I need some sort of emotional help, and practical help, like cleaning the gutters.
The carer consultant also tried to access a respite retreat for Faye to attend, but this was unsuccessful because it was not culturally appropriate. Faye had specific needs that the retreat could not meet, such as an interpreter, a special diet, and ways to pursue her Chinese‑specific interests—for example, access to her usual Chinese language television programs.
Despite all of the demands on Tina, she is positive about her role in supporting her family.
All of us three people, we support each other.
Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘Tina’ (pseudonym), September 2020.
Note: *Names have been changed to protect privacy