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Siblings Australia

Keeping Families Connected

The number of Australians diagnosed with a disability is growing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that in 2023, over 5 million Australians are living with a disability. What the figures don’t tell you, is that almost everyone living with disability has at least one sibling, if not more, who are impacted by their brother or sister’s disability. We all know someone with a disability, we all know siblings.

What you may not know, is that:

  • 84% of adult siblings reported family stress was an issue during their childhood
  • 66% of adult siblings reported anxiety during childhood
  • 54% of adult siblings reported depression during childhood 

Siblings Australia is the only national organisation to focus on siblings of children and adults with disability. Over the last 24 years we have developed a national and international reputation for our work with families and the professionals who support them, through advocacy and research. We are a not-for-profit, and as a registered charity, we invest any funds received back into the programs and supports we deliver.
But the gap is widening and more and more siblings are raising their hand and asking for help. Here is Libby’s* story:

When Libby was around 10 years of age, she recalls her parents sat her down and had a conversation with her about her sister Georgia*, and how she was different from other children.
It wasn’t until Libby reached the tumultuous teenage years that the sibling relationship between her and Georgia started to change. Naturally, Libby wanted to begin to explore life more independently within her own social circles and didn’t want to always do things with Georgia. Teenage years are already some of the hardest, so adding in the complexity of a sister with disability and the range of emotions that this can bring (i.e. guilt, resentment, embarrassment, jealousy) can make this time in life even harder to negotiate.
Despite the challenges the teen years brought them, both Libby and Georgia made it through the other side into adulthood, and Libby happily reports the pair now have a good relationship, but that wasn’t always the case.
Libby engaged with Siblings Australia after a family visit left her feeling disconnected from her sister Georgia and her parents.
Libby didn’t know who to turn to. Experience had taught her that everything was about providing support to the person with disability or their carers, but what about the brothers and sisters of people with disability? After a quick Google search, Libby felt gobsmacked, happy and relieved to find Siblings Australia. Not only was the organisation located in Australia, but its sole purpose was to provide support to siblings of people with disability. Libby felt she had hit the jackpot in finding an organisation that existed solely to help her.
After accessing resources and supports through Siblings Australia, Libby soon had the clarity she needed to resolve some of the outstanding issues and feelings of disconnection and withdrawal from her sister and parents. Of particular importance is Libby’s experience of feeling heard and seen by Siblings Australia – an issue she was finding particularly difficult to navigate. Libby believes her struggles with depression, self-harm/suicidal ideation and anxiety had stemmed from feeling confused and unimportant during childhood and adolescence.
Libby’s feeling of being invisible has had a profound impact on her mental health, she commented “It’s like I can’t help but feel invisible, since childhood”, but she is continuing to work on and improve her own self-worth.

Libby states that having a sister with a disability can have a profound impact on mental health, which isn’t talked about or addressed enough – she is so happy and relieved that Siblings Australia was there when she went looking for help.

* Given the complex nature of some sibling experiences, actual names have been changed to protect identity. Siblings often report that they are unable to share their feelings or experiences with their parents as they don’t want to burden them. Libby has been unable to share her experiences with her parents thus far, but hopes to do so in the future.

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