This Carers Week, 15-21 October 2017, Wellways is calling on the community to not just say thanks to Australia’s carers, but to join our campaign to give carers a better go. In this special Carers Week blog, Wellways Support Facilitator Farhat Firdous, reflects on her caring role and the services offered to people experiencing mental health issues, both here in Australia and in her home country of Pakistan.

My carer journey started in early 1990s when my older sister had her first psychotic episode. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and had since been treated for the illness without much success. A few years later, my brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia as well. Though I wonder if he was appropriately diagnosed or labelled due to earlier presence of the illness in the family. 

In those early years, I remember that my mother's energies were focused on my sister's illness while continuing to provide for rest of the family. Now I realise how the illness has taken over our family life. We are not a usual family with four children, but a family of two siblings diagnosed with mental illness being cared for by the rest of the family. 

I first heard about support groups for individuals diagnosed with mental illness and their families when I came to Australia in 2007. Hoping that there might be a support group in Pakistan, I searched the internet to find out relevant information and was disappointed by the absence of any such group or information. Even today, internet searches don't give much hope, though there is some momentum on the ground. The services in public health system are still next to nothing and the private system is out of reach for most of the population. 

In my current role, I work with individuals diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness and complex needs. Working with some of my clients and their families, I have often compared the standard of service in my country of choice and my country of origin. Reflecting on those moments, I come to realise that my motivation of working in this field comes from my earlier experience as a young carer, which has shaped my identity and contributed to choices I made professionally. It has also helped me to connect with some of my clients and their families in Australia with a very different culture and service system, but similar experiences of stigma and discrimination.  

The exposure to two very different mental health contexts is the reason that I usually start with a disclaimer about my positive bias towards Australian public health system and mental health services. However, after working in the sector for last four years, I have come to realise that there is room for improvement and the changes in the sector aren’t geared towards improvement, especially from a carer’s perspective. 

Farhat Firdous
Wellways Support Facilitator