Age at interview: 62
Background: Of European descent, Iris recently retired from her work as a scientist, and cares full-time for her eldest son, aged 29. Iris and her husband divorced when her eldest son was 14 years old, and her ex-husband has since died. She lives with both sons in an inner metropolitan suburb.
Iris has spent the last 12 years caring for her son and searching for the most appropriate mental health supports for him. Iris's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 17 years old and was voluntarily hospitalised once.
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More about Iris
A retired scientist, Iris is 62 years old. She has dealt with her eldest son's mental health issues largely alone since her ex-husband moved interstate following their divorce when her eldest son was a teenager.
Iris described her older son, now aged 29, as a 'creative' teenager who enjoyed 'rapping' and socialising with friends. She said he started dropping out of school around the time he began 'smoking dope' in Year 10. One day, when he was 17, Iris said her son began hallucinating. She took him to his GP who referred him to a youth psychiatric service where a psychiatrist diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Iris said she and her son were 'never told' officially about her son's diagnosis. It came as a shock, therefore, when she saw his diagnosis for the first time on paperwork that she filled out when her son left the service.
When Iris's son was 18, his psychiatrist prescribed him an antipsychotic medication, and for a while Iris thought he seemed to get better. About six months later, Iris said he stopped taking his medication because she said he thought he could 'manage' without it. She said this led to him having another episode, which prompted her to call a Crisis Assessment Team. Iris said her son 'responded well' to that intervention. The next ten years were punctuated by a recurring 'cycle' whereby Iris's son would feel 'well' enough that he would stop taking medication, which would then lead to a crisis. Following each 'episode', she took time off work to care for him, and he recovered at home. About a year ago, Iris's son's most recent crisis resulted in him being voluntarily hospitalised for the first time, for two weeks.
Iris said she has struggled over the years to find the right psychiatrist, psychologist and counsellor for her son. She found the greatest help came when acute intervention was required. Iris believes that as her son's carer she has acquired insight that can help identify when her son seems to be more 'well' or 'unwell'. She said interventions for preventing relapse should take carers' insights into account.
Caring for her son has affected Iris's capacity to work, which has come at a significant financial cost and career prospects. Iris received no financial support from her ex-husband who died three years ago. She recently took early retirement to care for her son, and several times when he became 'unwell' she has had to cancel holidays and conferences. Witnessing her son's social isolation and resulting loneliness has made her feel low at times. She feels it is important to promote both her son's and her own independence, and has organised separate accommodation for him. She hopes this will give him a reason to 'get out' of the house and visit her.
Iris reflected that her life is currently built around being flexible in response to her son's 'evolving situation' whilst also making time for herself to relax. She looks forward to travelling in her 'third life stage'.