Men Who Care: What it’s like being a male in a caring role

 

To honour International Men’s Day on 19 November, Satellite spoke to four men within our community to get a better understanding of what it’s like being a male in a caring role within a family experiencing mental illness or mental health challenges. They share how it can have an impact on their own mental health, and also make you stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate.

“Being a carer is a gift. It has taught me so much of who I am today.”
– Chris, 23 Satellite participant

“In Vietnamese culture, caring for your parents as they age is an act of honouring and respecting your ancestors, of being of service to those who have given you the ultimate gift of life. There is such tenderness, patience, kindness, and empathy that comes with being a carer. Caring has taught me about the kind of man I want to be. One who can be vulnerable in openly navigating my relationship with myself, loved ones and the community around me.

However, this is not to romanticise things. Being a carer from a marginalised background can also be scary and confusing. Due to deep social isolation, compounded intersectional minority stress, institutional abuse, historical intergenerational trauma and structural barriers preventing people from diverse backgrounds to access mainstream support services I often feel very alone and scared. Like my life is falling apart in the darkness and I don’t know how or who to go to, to support me. As the services around me don’t really seem to understand what I’m going through or the kind of support that I need.

Being a carer is also my superpower. It has taught me to find community and friends who love me. It has taught me to find creativity. It has taught me to take care and love myself. It has taught me boundaries. It has taught me rest. It has taught me to hold space. It has taught me strength. It has taught me fierce vulnerability. It has taught me that with love, all pain becomes medicine and healing.

Being a carer is a torch that has kept me on the path of finding healing for myself and my community. It has shown me the person I am. The person whom I love.”


“I encourage all men to reach out for emotional and practical support …”
– Henry, 52, Satellite’s Family and Community Engagement Person

“My siblings and I did a lot of care for my mum who was very anxious and depressed a lot of the time. We didn’t see it as a special ‘caring role’, we just saw it has how you love your mum when she is struggling. Me and my brothers fought a lot as teenagers, and all had our own private worries, but when it counted, we pulled together, and we have strong relationships today. Mum was amazing at running the house and farm with five kids and a husband, so most of the caring we did was emotional and checking-in and lots of hospital visits and taking mum on outings when she was admitted. I stayed living at home longer than most of my siblings, so I guess when mum was in hospital, I took on the role of cooking dad dinner and cleaning the house.

Because I had three brothers and one sister, we didn’t really have designated male/female roles that much (my sister was the best woodchopper and, debatably, the best fisherperson when we were at the holiday house), so I didn’t feel emasculated in any way helping in the kitchen or doing the cleaning, but I can see how that could happen. We just did what had to be done.

I see that there is a lot more carer support available nowadays, and I encourage all men to reach out for emotional and practical support when they are caring for a loved one with mental health struggles or mental illness.”


“When she is at her worst, it is really always on my mind.”
– Henry, 24, Satellite participant

“I would call myself a young carer. Not to the extent of some of the kids I have met, but I would have to say yes. I have taken on a caring role for mum, she has depression – this involves keeping a check on her and encouraging her to be active and doing things, getting her out of bed.

Having depression and anxiety is pretty much the same as mum. Mum has more depression and I have more anxiety. It does ebb and flow especially when I have been at home in lockdown.  When she is at her worst, it is really always on my mind.

I haven’t accessed services; I haven’t felt the need to. I’ve more just reached out and talked to people about it. Some of mum’s friends, I could call them and talk to them about it, they are very understanding. I have a pretty strong network of people I can turn to if I need to.

I haven’t had an intense caring role, so it hasn’t really changed the relationship particularly with my mum. I think I am a more compassionate and accepting person because of my experiences.

I think there is that general thing of gender stereotypes … but the only people I tell are the people who would accept that anyway. My sister has had a far different experience because she didn’t get the help I did from a place like Satellite when I was younger, so I got to understand what was happening… She has a different relationship with mum.”


“…it’s a duty of any child no matter what gender to look after their parent/s…”
– Joel, 33, Chief Digital Officer

“I am my mother’s medical guardian due to her cognitive decline from decades of ECT and other treatments related to her BiPolar 1. She has recently been diagnosed with Sub-Nuclear Palsy (Steele Richardson Syndrome) which required me to put her in a nursing home. I drive down every weekend from Melbourne to Warrnambool to be with her.

Now I am a carer, however, growing up I didn’t consider myself one. She was just my mum with a serious mental illness and that was the way it was. Looking back, I was her emotional support almost to a point where I was treated like a husband in regard to a lot of decisions, probably from the age of 10 onwards.

I definitely don’t look after myself as best as I can as I throw myself into work and deliberately keep myself busy so that I don’t have to think about the situation. I think growing up with a parent with a mental illness builds internal resilience, I haven’t had any mental health concerns regarding the situation.

I do a podcast on this subject now and that’s how I share my experience, it has helped me do that.”

To read more about the experience of carers, especially young carers, read “II was a young carer, and I didn’t even realise” and “Lessons from a long distance carer“.

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