Age at interview: 40
Background: Kate lives with her family in an outer metropolitan suburb and works as a consultant. She was born in Australia and identifies as having an Anglo-Australian background.
Over the last 12 years, Kate and her mother have cared for Kate's brother, aged 38, who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In that time her brother has been hospitalised four times, once as a compulsory patient. Kate speaks nearly every day to her brother who lives independently.
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More about Kate
Reflecting on the past 12 years of caring for her brother, aged 38, Kate feels there has been 'growth' both in her own understanding of 'mental illness' and in her brother's ability to 'do life'.
While on an overseas trip Kate's brother, then aged 26, phoned home one day and, she recalled, their family got the impression he was in 'another world' and seemed very paranoid. So concerned were they that Kate went to meet him in Asia, where she said she immediately sensed 'something was wrong'. They returned to Australia where her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Kate said this was 'very confronting' because her family did not know anything about schizophrenia and because she and her parents felt the person her brother had been was 'just not there anymore'. Yet she said the diagnosis came as 'a relief' because it confirmed their feeling something was 'not right'.
Since receiving his diagnosis, Kate's brother has been hospitalised three times, once as a compulsory patient. Kate described how she 'was the one who really pushed' for his most recent non-compulsory hospitalisation after she noticed 'little alarm bells'. Her brother could not sit still, ate very little and was losing weight. Kate and her mother persuaded him to consult a mental health practitioner who recommended he be admitted to hospital where he received early voluntary treatment and, consequently, did not experience an episode.
Kate's brother is not 'keen to really talk about his illness' with family, Kate said. He seems to listen more to case managers because, she thinks, he sees mental health practitioners as experts whereas he just wants them 'to be his mum and his sister'. As a result, Kate and her mother feel they have not really known much about his supervised treatment. This means they put a lot of trust in practitioners regarding that aspect of his care.
Kate's mother is her brother's primary carer and Kate's own role involves being a support for her mother, talking to her brother nearly every day about day-to-day concerns like budgeting and how to live independently. Regular communication is a way, Kate said, to build their relationship. She can also look out for warning signs that point to her brother becoming 'unwell' in which case she can advise him to take preventative action to avoid experiencing an episode.
Carer support groups have been 'really beneficial' for Kate and her mother. She believes carers' experiences of supporting their loved ones could be improved if mental health practitioners made an effort to 'put themselves in carers' shoes' and advised carers early on how to navigate all the different mental health providers. Carers would also be helped, Kate said, if practitioners consistently treated their family member with 'mental illness' as a person because, she said, her brother 'is not his illness'.
For Kate, it is important to remember her brother is 'so much more than the schizophrenia'. She aims to support him to live the best life he can with their situation as it is.