Age at interview: 70
Background: A retired secretary, Kay is 70 years old and has two adult children aged 40 and 33. Of Australian heritage, Kay lives with her husband and her youngest son in an outer metropolitan suburb.
For the last fifteen years, Kay and her husband have cared for their youngest son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when was 18. Kay's son has been hospitalised 11 times, two of which were as a compulsory patient, and his last hospitalisation was over five years ago. He has seen about eight different psychiatrists over the years.
More about Kay
When Kay and her husband first began caring for their son 15 years ago, Kay recalled, there were times when there did not seem to be 'any light at the end of the tunnel'.
A retired secretary, Kay is 70 years old and lives in an outer metropolitan suburb with her husband and youngest son, aged 33. When their son was 18, he had a motorbike accident whilst on holiday abroad that left him unconscious for 24 hours. When he came home he had a 'complete breakdown', which Kay attributed to the trauma of his accident. However, Kay's husband said he had noticed a 'change in his attitude' even before he went on holiday. Following his 'collapse', Kay's son was hospitalised and diagnosed with schizophrenia, aged 18, which came as a 'big shock' to his parents. Over the next 10 years, Kay's son was hospitalised a further 10 times, twice as a compulsory patient. In the past five years he has not spent time in hospital.
Kay's son has seen about eight different psychiatrists over the past 15 years, two of whom stood out, Kay said. One was a 'very kind lady psychiatrist', who told Kay to 'make sure' she told her son she loved him. Another psychiatrist Kay liked because he acknowledged her husband's concern about their son being 'overmedicated', and organised for rehabilitation services to monitor changing their son's medication.
Accepting the 'big change' in her son, who at school had been very 'outgoing, popular, and an outstanding footballer, cricketer and athletic sportsman', Kay said, was hard for her at the beginning. After he became 'unwell', his friends stopped ringing and her son became withdrawn and isolated. Consequently, he spends a lot of time with Kay and her husband, which meant they have not travelled as much in their retirement as they had planned. Following advice from her son's psychiatrist, Kay has recently been supporting her son to become 'more independent' by encouraging him to do household chores and keep a calendar showing dates of his psychiatrist appointments. By doing so, she said she wants to prepare him to be able to 'look after himself' and be happy in the future when she and her husband eventually pass away.
Eight years ago, Kay joined a carer support group which she found 'very helpful', however, she said they are 'not for everybody'. Some people, like her husband who does not attend the group, find talking about their experiences of caregiving and listening to other people talk about their experiences, 'depressing'. But Kay said hearing about how other people's loved ones have 'recovered' and how other carers have learned to 'cope' with their loved ones' mental health issues, gives her 'a little bit of hope'.
In the past five years, Kay's son has seemed 'better in himself' and 'more independent', she said. This has meant she feels more confident to 'venture out' and recently Kay booked tickets for herself, her husband and their son to go away together on a cruise.