October 11 – 17 is National Carers Week.
It is a time to recognise the 2.65 million Australians who provide care and support to a family member or friend with disability, mental health condition, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged.
VMCH’s Carer Support program provides support for approximately 1200 carers across Melbourne’s eastern region.
VMCH CEO Sonya Smart says that many carers don’t see themselves as ‘a carer’, because the person or people they look after are their family or friend.
‘However, many of our clients speak about needing time out, and a safe space to talk about the challenges of their responsibilities. Our events and activities (which are currently being conducted online) provide the chance for a well-earned break.
‘Our staff go above and beyond to ensure carers are supported, and are given ample opportunities to be themselves, and have some time out.’
Marion Kaye has been a carer for 20 years. When her son David was eight years old, he was diagnosed with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). For Marion, this meant that the son she had known was gone, and she had to adjust as her new role of carer, as well as mum.
‘The situation we have been through, it has been an unusual one, because it happened at a time when ABI was not acknowledged, and there was no support around. Villa Maria (as VMCH were known at the time) was the only one who would accept a carer for someone with ABI. They were my life saver.’
Over the past 20 years, Marion has been involved with the VMCH Carer Support program. Through this, she has had the opportunity to meet other carers, and have some time out to pursue activities and events to give her a break.
‘I’m not trying to play it down, we’re doing very well, but it’s been a long hard road,’ says Marion. ‘Carers have a lot more support now, thank goodness. In the beginning, I was lucky I was proactive, and found help, but it’s a lot more accessible now.’
Through Marion’s time with the Carer Support program, she became an art therapist, supporting carers for nine years. This also provided an opportunity to look at herself in a different way.
‘It’s made me grow, within myself, in lots of ways. So this had the benefit for helping others and myself at the same time.
‘Being a carer was all thrown at me, there’s been grief, mental health issues, and it is ongoing because I have my son every day. You just don’t know what’s around the corner. We don’t plan any more, we just do it. Caring has given me a lot, but it’s also been a long hard road, and that’s for all the people out there.
‘This happened out of the blue and changed our life totally. We make the most of every day and if we want to do something, we do it.
‘Just make the most of what you’ve got now. Don’t leave your plans for tomorrow. If you want to do something, just do it.’
to read more about Marion’s journey.