Mental health: ethnic minority carers’ experiences

Leah - Interview 28

Female
Age at interview: 62

Brief outline: Leah has been caring for her son Albert with schizophrenia for 17 years.

Background: Leah came to the UK from Hong Kong in 1969. She works in a restaurant and has four grown up children. She became a carer at age 46. Ethnic background: Chinese.

Audio & video

Leah came to the UK from Hong Kong in 1969. Her life was busy, having four children and working in a restaurant. When her son, Albert, was around 20 years old, Leah noticed that his behaviour was changing. He claimed he was being followed and that pictures were taken of him. Leah and another of her sons kept a record of Albert's behaviour and took that with them when they brought him to the GP. The GP immediately referred Albert to a psychiatric hospital.

After the first hospitalisation Albert was able to control his condition with medication, and for the next five years things were stable. He was, however suffering from side effects, and he stopped taking his medicine. Soon after, Leah again recognised the symptoms and immediately contacted the hospital. This situation has continued ever since' Albert stops taking the medication, his symptoms return and Leah needs to contact the hospital, the police or the social services to protect him and others. She is trying to convince her son that he needs to take his medication in order to control his condition, but he makes his own decisions. Over the last few months, Albert has been relatively stable and has taken his medicine.

Leah says that one of the things that helped was when she pulled back a little from taking on too much responsibility and let him do more things for himself. She is still there for him and very much involved -for example, she rings him up to remind him to take his medication- but she now encourages him to become more independent. She was supported in this decision by her family and friends.

Leah says that her employers have been very supportive throughout, and that she is given the flexibility she needs to care for her son. She also got involved in a carers' support group through a hospital, and more recently she has become very active in the activities of the Chinese Mental Health Association, which she says has been very helpful.

Brought up as a Buddhist, Leah has converted to Christianity and she says feeling the presence of God has helped her in difficult times. She thinks Albert has been given good medical care, and that she trusts the professional decisions of his doctors. Although her son sometimes complains about how the hospital nurses have been treating him, Leah says this might be his illness talking and that she has a great deal of sympathy for the nurses. She emphasises that it is important that Albert works together with the medical staff if he wants to get better.

Leah is grateful for what the health professionals are doing and for what the government provides for her and her family. She sees her volunteering work as a way of giving something back. This includes regularly visiting older people who live alone, and she helps with interpretation for others who are not able to speak English. She finds this work very rewarding.

When Leah first came to England, there were not very many services aimed at Chinese people. Today, however, she finds that much more is available, and also that there is less discrimination than before.

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