Age at interview: 63
Background: Katherine lives with her partner in a metropolitan suburb. She has a son and a daughter from a previous relationship. A retired mental health professional, Katherine identifies as Anglo-Australian.
Katherine cares for her son who is now aged 32. Katherine's son was diagnosed with bipolar I when he was in his twenties. He has been hospitalised several times, once voluntarily and other times involuntarily. Katherine and her former husband share caring responsibilities for their son.
More about Katherine
When Katherine looked back on how she has supported her son over the past 12 years, she said she thought she must have inherited 'resilience genes' from her mother, who 'kept on keeping on' when 'tough things' happened in life.
A retired mental health professional, Katherine is 63 and lives with her partner in a metropolitan suburb. She has a son and daughter, aged 32 and 34 respectively, from a previous relationship. Katherine described how she noticed a change in her son's behaviour after he changed schools at the age of 15. During his third term, the school informed her that he was 'misbehaving' and being 'cheeky'. She consulted a private psychiatrist about how to manage the situation who suggested it was 'just adolescent acting out'. He advised her not to take her son to see a psychiatrist as it could be 'traumatic' for a teenager.
When Katherine's son was 18, he experienced a 'hypomanic episode' and was voluntarily hospitalised during which time a diagnosis of bipolar was discussed but not confirmed. She said both her son and family were 'optimistic' that, if he took his medication, the first episode could be 'a once off'. He had another episode five years later when, Katherine described, an antidepressant that his psychiatrist prescribed 'sent him into an intense mania'.
In the last nine years, Katherine's son has experienced several episodes that she said have been 'more severe'. During this time he has been hospitalised for 'longer' periods, and has been diagnosed with bipolar I. She said she and her son can now identify the kind of thoughts that he has in the initial stages of an episode, and she described how this offers a 'window of opportunity' when she can encourage him to take action. Recently, after he told her he noticed 'a warning sign', Katherine advised him to consult his psychiatrist who modified his medication, which she describes as having 'nipped that near episode in the bud'.
Katherine said she had no idea what bipolar was when her son was first diagnosed. At first, she 'madly read' information about her son's condition and 'joined support groups'. She also looked for lots of ways to connect her son to 'different things' that she found 'on offer'. But she said she now feels this is less necessary because he is more vigilant about his medication and well-being. She also makes a 'conscious effort' to let her son 'run his own show' when he is well. When he is 'unwell' Katherine explained that he tends to 'listen more to his father', and during those times she works 'behind the scenes' with her ex-husband to support him.
Katherine said she sees her son as being 'resilient' because he 'just gets on with life'. She described how her experience of caring for him has given her a different perspective on what's really important, which she thinks are not 'material things but relationships and mental and physical health'.