Age at interview: 62
Background: Jeannie is 62 years old, divorced with three adult children and lives alone in a Victorian regional centre. Self-employed as a paralegal professional, she identifies as Anglo-Australian.
For the past year, Jeannie has cared for her son who has been diagnosed with depression. Borderline Personality Disorder has also been suggested as a possible diagnosis. No further diagnosis has been made due to difficulties in accessing a psychiatrist in her town.
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More about Jeannie
Jeannie said she feels her life has been 'hijacked' over the past year as a result of her ongoing difficulties in accessing care for her son in her town.
Jeannie, aged 62, described how she first felt things were 'not right' with her son, now aged 35, when he moved away to the city for work 10 years ago. She said her son's job had a 'serious culture' of alcohol and drug use, which she believes her son got drawn into. Over the following years, Jeannie said she thought her son was experiencing anxiety and recommended he seek counselling. She said he did not act on her advice until about a year ago, when she said he admitted he was experiencing depression and had an alcohol dependency problem. Jeannie described how her son saw a GP who diagnosed him with depression and prescribed antidepressants. He then moved back home with her in order to 'detox'.
For the first five months Jeannie said her son appeared to be doing very well. However, 'the wheels fell off' when she was hospitalised for an almost fatal infection after which she said her son experienced a psychotic episode. Following her return from hospital, Jeannie said her son expressed suicidal thoughts and suffered several more psychotic episodes, which prompted Jeannie to take him to the local mental health unit. Over the next five weeks, her son stayed in three different facilities. Two were residential services for people with mental health and substance abuse issues, and Jeannie said both services asked her son to leave after finding him in possession of cannabis and alcohol. Feeling as though she was 'enabling' him, Jeannie told him to move out of her home. Since then he has stayed with a friend.
Jeannie said her son saw a psychiatrist while in the mental health unit but only briefly. A community health service worker suggested his behaviour was consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, Jeannie said her son has not yet received a diagnosis because accessing a psychiatrist in a regional area is 'almost impossible'. She thinks the services her son needs are 'just not there' and the mental health system in her regional area 'fails' people with mental illness who also have a substance abuse disorder ('dual diagnosis').
Jeannie said she has accessed her community health organisation's 'terrific' counselling service a couple of times. She described deriving comfort from a carer support group where carers can hear how others in the same situation find ways to maintain their own 'sanity and lives'. Jeannie learned from other carers the importance of self-care when caring for another person. As she explained, 'you're no good to them if you fall by the wayside'.
Jeannie said at times she feels 'very hopeless' for herself and her son. Although she tries to stay positive, she lives with the constant fear that her son will commit suicide or that his life will be 'reduced to a cycle of illness, brushes with the law, homelessness and poverty'.