A Croydon mother-of-three is urging other carers to seek support and take better care of themselves.
Mel Spencer is a full-time carer for her children aged 16, 14 and 11, who have autism.
Mel is also one of around 670 carers from Melbourne’s east who receive support from not-for-profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ (VMCH) Carer Support Program. She says having access to respite activities such as retreats, musicals and luncheons with her husband, Anthony, has been “powerful”.
“When we first got respite it almost saved our marriage. We could do things together we couldn’t do before because we didn’t have the supports in place. We were so busy paying for therapies (for our children) we didn’t have any money left over to spend on ourselves. Suddenly, we were a priority, it was like a gift.”
Along with the demands and challenges of her caring role, Mel has also battled her own mental health issues. She suffered a breakdown with severe post-traumatic stress following a workplace issue in 2008.
“My girls became my carers for a time – so we had a full role reversal. Without my children, the story may be entirely different and I might not be sitting here talking to you.”
Mel said experiences with support services such as VMCH had empowered her to “give back”. She now runs a walking group for carers, Pathways for Carers and is involved with Different Journeys, a social group for teens and adults on the Autism spectrum, and their families.
“Carers are some of the most isolated and marginalised people in our community. It is a hard and lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be if you can tap into support services and connect with others in the same boat, who won’t judge you,” she said.
“Many carers don’t seek help because they are ashamed. But unless we speak up, nothing will ever change. Seeking support means finding a better life, changing your perspective and finding the glimmer of gold in the haystack.”
VMCH Carer Support Program Team Leader Lynda Waterman said feelings of isolation and a disconnect from mainstream society were common among carers.
“Often carer’s own lives are put on hold, creating financial burdens and negatively impacting their relationships with other people.”
Lynda said support given through respite, social outings, education and information made a big difference to carer’s lives.
“Carers and the person they care for should be as well, healthy and content as possible. No one else does what carers do, without being paid. They make a vital social and economic contribution to society and we should do everything in our power to support them.”
For more information on VMCH carer support in the Eastern region, please call 1300 971 720.