A young carer’s experience of living with a parent with mental illness

My name is Matthew, I am 14 years old and I live with my mum, dad and little sister. I am in Year 10 and I like school, but I find it hard to make friends because I don’t have time to do things with them, and I don’t want to bring friends home because my house is very messy and my dad is a bit unpredictable. He has a mental illness and that means he often sleeps during the day and my mum works all the time; she has to do that because Dad can’t work. I love my parents but I also feel responsible for them. Mum does her best but she can’t do everything. I do most of the housework and shopping and sometimes I do the cooking but I am not very good at it and my sister is too young. I enjoy being helpful and grown up but it does get me down at times.

Things have improved lately because one of my teachers has taken an interest and asked me how things are at home. I felt better once I told him and I know he understands and will speak up for me if I get into trouble with homework. Sometimes I am late for school because things are difficult at home. He talked to me about the need to look after myself, to have a hobby, to go out with friends so that I can deal with the stress. I know this is good advice but it’s hard to make time for myself.

Recently we had an assembly on mental health, and it was interesting to understand what mental illness is and how it happens. I realised that it’s not that different from having a physical illness but it’s much harder to talk about because people call you names. I worry that I will have a mental illness just like my dad but maybe I can avoid it; that’s what the teacher said, he said it was not true that if Dad has a mental illness I would have it too. I am really interested in the brain and how it works and I hope to find out more in the carers group that the school has started. At least I don’t feel so odd anymore.