Mental health: ethnic minority carers’ experiences

Wei - Interview 31

Age at interview: 61

Brief outline: Wei has been caring for her husband since he got mental health problems more than 20 years ago.

Background: Wei grew up in Vietnam and has lived in London with her husband for 25 years. They have three grown up children. She became a carer at age 39. Ethnic background: Chinese.

Audio & video

Wei is 61 and lives with her husband in London. Born in Vietnam, they are both Chinese and moved to the UK in the early 1980s.  When they had been here just over three years, her husband became unwell. Wei describes the early signs as him being agitated, sleepless and restless. He would pace around the house all night, not sleeping for days on end. When she asked him what was wrong, he replied that 'nothing was wrong'. Not being able to speak English herself, Wei had relied on her husband up until then, and she found it very hard to know what to do. Eventually a translator from a Vietnamese community centre assisted her husband to the hospital where he was diagnosed with mental health problems. He husband was hospitalised, and for the next 15 years he was in and out of hospital.

Wei says she didn't really understand what was going on. With her youngest being only three years old at the time, life was a struggle. Not being able to read or write or to speak English, even finding her way to visit her husband in hospital was very difficult. At that time it was not easy to get interpreters or other help from Chinese speaking organisations. While at home, her husband would often refuse taking his medicine, which caused relapses and Wei had several times had to call the police when she was unable to deal with the situation.

Due to her husband's problems he couldn't work, and Wei had to look after him full time. She says thing were difficult financially, and she is sad that despite her children getting top grades at school, she couldn't support them through university. With the children now grown up and with families of their own, today things are a little easier.

Every day for the last four years, Wei has been getting help from relatives to bring her husband to hospital where he gets his medicine. Even if he is not back to his normal self, the medication is at least keeping him stable. Still, Wei finds it hard to deal with his lack of communication. He doesn't talk to anyone, so it is really difficult to know how he is feeling. She says he just sits by himself, smoking.

Wei finds that over the last few years, when she has been getting help from the Social Services by Chinese speakers, it is easier to understand what is going on and she says she feels a little better. Even so, Wei doesn't know the exact diagnosis of her husband's mental health problem.

Wei is grateful for the support family and friends have given her over the last 20 years. She is also relieved that there are more services available in Chinese today, and she enjoys coming to her local carers' centre once a week, taking part in activities and trips.

Wei had hoped to go and see her mother, who is 90, in China this year. When she applied for respite assistance towards the costs, she was told there was not enough money in the local carers' budget this year. She hopes she can go next year.


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