Raye grew up with mental health problems in the family. Today, she is the main carer for her father (paranoid schizophrenia), her sister (schizophrenia) and her brother (manic depression). She now feels she needs to let go of some of the responsibilities and focus on her own life.
Raye is 28 and lives in London. She describes herself as Black British, and both her parents are from the Caribbean. Raye cares for her father who has paranoid schizophrenia, her older sister who has schizophrenia and her older brother who is manic depressive. She also has a younger brother.
Raye describes home life when she grew up as a little ‘dysfunctional’. Her parents split up when she was very young. Her mother belonged to a small, strict Christian church who, unlike other churches worshipped on Saturdays, and Raye felt they were to some extent outsiders. Family life revolved around school and church. Raye was happy at primary school, but says she felt a bit daunted when she started secondary school. This was also around the time she realised something was wrong with her sister. Over the next few years it became apparent that her brother and her father also suffered from mental health problems. From around the age of 15 Raye took on caring responsibilities. Initially it was simply checking up on whether her sister was OK and generally keeping an eye on things. She was also given a lot of responsibility for her younger brother and they spent a lot of time together.
As she grew older, Raye got more and more involved in the care of her family. Both her sister and brother didn’t want to interact with their mother or their younger brother when they were unwell. She also became the next of kin to her father. She was therefore involved as all three of them went in and out of hospitals.
Twice, Raye has tried to change the situation. Fist when she moved away to go to university. She ended up coming back quite a lot, and on reflection she says she should have gone further away. Then, a few years later, she went to Japan where she taught for two years. When she was away her younger brother had taken on some responsibilities, but when she returned, she says it was ‘like I never left’.
In her experience, the lack of coordination between services adds to the strain on carers. For example, the lack of hand-over notes often means she is the one informing professionals about her father’s medical history. She has also been asked by professionals about whether or not he is in hospital at a given time. Recently, she was contacted by her father’s housing officer and asked to go to his house to turn off his radio which was disturbing his neighbours. Raye doesn’t think these sort of things fall under the duty of ‘next of kin’. Being so closely involved and knowing so many intimate details about her father makes it impossible to maintain a normal father and daughter relationship.
Raye is critical to the over representation of people from Black and minority ethnic groups in mental health hospitals. She fears that many of them -like her sister- become institutionalised, perhaps as a result of wrongful sectioning, and then are unable to return to a normal life afterwards. She thinks issues such as poverty and poor housing is partly to blame for the inequalities in mental health.
The constant worry and the many practical and emotional impacts on her life have taken their toll. Over the last year or so, Raye has developed depression and has also been fighting her addiction to food. She says that given her family history she is in some ways glad her problems are not even more serious. At the same time she is very tired and has come to the realisation that for her own sake -and for her family- she needs to step back from some of the responsibilities and focus on rebuilding her own life. She is receiving counselling and she has also found that the 12 steps of Overeaters Anonymous have helped her find a practical and spiritual path towards recovery. She says she can’t go on thinking she has to live for everyone else and forget about herself.