My son’s mental health issues began when he was in his 20s – he’s 52 now. He came to see me at work one day and he looked terrible. He said to me: “Dad, I think I’m dying.” That shook me. I asked him what he meant. He said: “I’m no good to my daughter, I’m no good to my fiancée, I just can’t carry on.” We jumped in the car and I took him straight to the hospital, where they gave him tablets and sent him home, but he was still up and down.
5 years ago after an incident at his daughter’s school, I got a call from my son’s fiancée asking me to come over straightaway. I got there and he was a mess, so I rang the family doctor, who told me to get him to hospital quickly.
I put him straight in the car, and on the way to the hospital, he suddenly sighed and said, “That’s a weight off my mind.” It was like he was a little child again, and someone had taken all the pressure off him. He was admitted to hospital after that episode, and I was told he was very depressed, although I didn’t understand everything that came under the banner of mental health back then. After two weeks he was allowed out for a weekend, but he couldn’t face his daughter, so he stayed with us for the weekend. When he was finally discharged, he came to stay with us again.
Whilst my son was in the hospital, I saw something about about Arafmi (now HelpingMinds) on the pin-up board, and I asked what it was all about. I was told it was for people like me, for carers. I rang them, and they told me about their monthly support group meetings, and I decided to go along, because I had nothing to lose.
Ringing HelpingMinds was the best thing I ever did. Talking to other people and listening to their experiences really opened my eyes, and put my own situation into perspective. It also taught me a lot. I learnt a lot about bipolar; I learnt that it can go on for years and years and years, but that it’s not the end of the line.
Through HelpingMinds, I learnt how to talk to my son. In the beginning I wasn’t open to my son’s problems because I’d had traumatic experiences with mental health in the past. By talking to other people, and learning about my son’s issues, I realised that we should talk about it. Talking about it makes everyone feel better.
My advice to other carers is to keep coming to the HelpingMinds support groups and meetings. Don’t think that you know it all after a few months. Keep coming, no matter what; keep coming and keep talking. Get that weight off your shoulders. The pamper days are fantastic, and not just for the women, either – the blokes get a lot out of them, too. I haven’t missed a massage session for three years, and I’ve made some really good friends along the way, too.