Age at interview: 73
Background: James is an engineer and lives alone in inner metropolitan suburb. He is widowed and has a new partner. James has two adult children and is from an Anglo-Australian background.
James started caring for his son after his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. James' son is 27 years old and was diagnosed at the age of 20 after he had left home and was living on the streets. He then became subject to a Community Treatment Order (CTO) for five years, and was hospitalised several times. James's son works part-time as a cleaner and James visits him twice a week.
More about James
James described caring for his 27-year-old son for the past six years as a process that requires him to live daily with the tension between hoping his son might be okay, and knowing there's no guarantee he won't 'regress back to square one'.
Twelve years ago, James said he first noticed his son's behaviour seemed 'funny' over Christmas the year his wife died. Then aged 15, his son wouldn't get out of the car when they went to visit relatives. When his son was 18, following a violent incident at home, James said he had to call the police who took his son to a hospital. A triage nurse at the hospital then rang and told James there was 'nothing wrong' with his son.
James's son left home at the age of 21, and lived on the streets for about 12 months. During this time he developed a drug addiction and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. James said in hindsight he finds it 'disappointing' that 'an early diagnosis' was not made when his son was 18. He described how withdrawn and morose his son has become since the diagnosis, which James has found challenging to adjust to. He said he finds it difficult to communicate with his son in 'any meaningful way' and thought this could be due partly to his son's feeling low 'self-worth' as a result of the stigma associated with mental illness, particularly media reports linking mental illness to criminal behaviour.
James's son was subject to a Community Treatment Order (CTO) for the first five years after he was diagnosed and has had several hospitalisations. James feels psychiatrists have 'always answered' any questions he asked about his son's treatment. But he said there was 'a fair turnover' of case workers, which he thinks could affect his son's continuity of care. James described how his son's current medication, clozapine, has enabled him to work part-time as a cleaner for the past three years, and he recently moved into a shared flat near where James lives. However, James said his son lacks 'mental agility' and his memory is 'hazy', which James thinks is more a side effect of medication than a symptom of illness.
James described 'early diagnosis as absolutely essential' because he feels if his son had received early treatment, he might not have dropped out of school, left home or started taking drugs. He thinks without facilities that offer 'direction and care', there is a risk people like his son will end up in 'a downward spiral' that culminates in jail. James said in his upcoming retirement he plans to apply 'pressure to the political system to make supported accommodation available'. He described this as essential for ensuring people with mental illness don't 'fall through the cracks' but receive the support they need to live as normally as possible. In the meantime, James does his best to care for his son and visits him at least twice a week.