A Carer’s Experience of Mental Illness – Violeta Petersen

Posted on: February 22, 2016
Last Updated: August 24, 2021

An inspirational talk by Violeta Petersen who is a Carer Consultant with Alfred Psychiatry and came into this role after 15 years of working within various disability service providers. Violeta’s lived experience informs her broad understanding of the impact of mental illness on families and carers. She shares her compassion, knowledge and insight to support families and carers in the mental health service system as well as deliver family sensitive education programs to clinical staff. At present, Violeta is actively involved in several mental health projects to improve the quality of experience and service delivery to consumers, families and carers in Alfred Psychiatry.

Take Home Messages:

  1. “The three key issues for me that are most important are around carer identification, how involved are families and the carers and carer wellbeing.”
  2. Young carer’s are one of the invisible groups.”
  3. Carer Identification:  There may be situations where your patients may not reveal that a family member is their ‘carer’, which results in these carers not receiving the support they need. Being a carer is a complex role:

The common experiences that a lot of carers that I come into contact with… are feelings of guilt, shame, anger, frustration, grief and sadness… despair and exhaustion.

Research has investigated the impact of care giving. The results revealed that one-third to one-half of carers suffer significant psychological distress and experience high rates of mental health than the general population.

That’s quite a scary thought to me… that as a carer we’re faced with many challenges that impact on our health and how are we looking after ourselves as carers?

Personal Experience:

Violeta highlights the importance of discussing the difficulties of being a carer. Through her personal experience as a young carer, Violeta was connected with the school counsellor, who then connected her with a support group:

They embraced me, nurtured me and normalised the feelings that I was experiencing as a young person.

  1. Carers need to learn more effective ways of coping with stress, which will result in a reduction in anxiety:

What I’ve tended to see in the whole aspect of caring and what helps improve the relationship with the person that the carer is supporting is that involvement… with professionals, the person and the family.

2. A further aspect that helps carers is education from a different perspective other than resources on the internet: What I emphasise very strongly… is to try and connect families with other families.”

         Advice to carers:

Learn as much as you can about the illness. How it affects the person. The impacts it has on you. And to understand the side effects of medication and treatments. And most of all not to be afraid to ask questions and what better place to start asking those questions than your GP.

         Advice to professions:

Find out which of your patients may be carers. Believe me, they’re out there. They may be young, they may be old, they come in all shapes and sizes. To offer them support, to promote good health, and to monitor the risk of carer stress. In other words, the carer burden.

Q And A

Q: You mentioned financial support. That’s a very common problem with dysfunctional families. Is there a pathway that we can get them to Centrelink?

Centrelink in my environment is particularly unhelpful. In mental health it is very unhelpful. Some carers may be sourcing some assistance to subsidise loss of income or to support them just with the added burden of extra expenses that they’re covering as a part of the caring role.

Q: Are there any specific online resources where people can connect?

Looking at some of the more consistent forms of information… would be connecting with your government agencies. Your Commonwealth Respite and Care centres which is a nationwide service and is available in each state and each local region. Then I’d be looking at resources such as Beyond Blue. There are great organisations such as SANE and for Victoria is Mind and Mental Illness Fellowship.

Q:  How do you decide who is your GP?

One that understands our experiences of family, one that involved us as a family and resourced us. Someone who sees me with a fresh set of eyes and didn’t place me in a box. One that is willing to listen and understand.

Q: Sometimes you see a patient and they don’t want to discuss it with their family, they don’t want their family to get involved. They are happy to talk to you and you’re happy to listen but where is the boundary about confidentiality issues. How would you get the patient to get his family involved?

This is a very divisive topic of discussion. Be mindful of where the person does and does not give consent, but recognising what would be the impact of this carer if we don’t involve them, if we don’t share information with them. Communication, honesty from the onset. Being able to present a very clear objective that “part of my practice is to involve families and I want your family to be involved. I don’t want to exclude because it is an important part of your care. But it is always going to be tricky, it is a fine line to tread.

Q: What is the question that you would like the GP to ask you, to see how much it is affecting your life also?

The one question that opens up Pandora’s box is “How are you going?