Age at interview: Late 50s
Background: Ebony is in her late 50s and lives in an outer metropolitan suburb. Of an Anglo-Saxon background, Ebony is currently studying. She has two children, aged 25 and 20 years.
Ebony has cared for her brother, aged 52, since he told her last year that he had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia six years ago. With the support of her three siblings, Ebony also cares for their elderly mother who has received a diagnosis of depression.
Carers’ experiences of caring for themselves - Ebony felt 'overwhelmed' when she first found out about her brother's diagnosis. She said it was important not to be 'consumed' by someone else's life.
More about Ebony
Last year, Ebony became the main carer for her youngest brother, aged 52, after he told her he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Many years earlier, as a young child, Ebony had first become a carer when her mother received treatment for depression and anxiety.
A mother of two children in their twenties, Ebony is in her late 50s and has three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. When she and her siblings were little, she recalled, their mother would go away sometimes to stay in hospital, which they were told when they were older was due to her 'nervous problems'. Ebony remembered 'always looking' to see whether her mother was feeling 'well' or 'unwell'. When the older siblings had all left home, Ebony's youngest brother was for a time the only one still living at home and, when he was completing his final year of high school, their mother experienced a period of being very 'unwell'. This caused him to feel so anxious that he was not able to sit some of his exams. Since then, their mother has seen clinicians who continued her medication, and since about the mid-1980s she has had no further hospitalisations.
About a year ago, Ebony spent time with her youngest brother after being out of contact with him for about five years, and she noticed he was pacing a lot and seemed anxious. He then told her that six years earlier he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. After that, Ebony became his main carer with the support of their other siblings who both live interstate and keep in regular contact.
Over the past seven years, Ebony's brother has received voluntary and compulsory treatment in psychiatric units. Ebony has participated in a few of his sessions with clinicians. She strongly believes in her brother's right to make decisions for himself about reducing, and even stopping, his medication, and which doctors he consults. However, Ebony thinks the support she and other carers need to be able to assist their loved ones to exercise their rights to make treatment decisions, is not currently provided by either the mental health system or the legal system.
Supporting her brother involves spending time with him in person, at times talking on the telephone several times a day, accompanying him occasionally to meetings with practitioners, attending seminars for carers of people diagnosed with mental health issues, contacting mental health organisations and researching information about practitioners and treatments that might help him and help her to better support him. Ebony said she tries not to be 'consumed' by caregiving, and described her Christian faith and her love for her brother, who is one of her 'favourite' people, as resources that sustain her.
Ebony feels she and her brother have been brought closer by struggles they have both gone through and shared with each other. His ability to laugh about life has helped her to feel a 'light-heartedness' in even the most challenging of situations.