Age at interview: 29
Background: Lisa, aged 29, lives with her partner in an outer metropolitan suburb and works as a public servant. She was born in New Zealand and identifies as having an English background.
Lisa has cared for her older brother since she was 10 years old. Lisa's brother was diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis at the age of 19. This was subsequently changed to schizoaffective disorder. Lisa's brother has spent time in mental health units. He lives independently and Lisa is involved in his daily care.
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More about Lisa
Reflecting on the past 19 years of caring for her older brother, Lisa said her 'recovery journey' began when she 'acknowledged' she did not have 'control' over their situation.
A public servant, Lisa is 29 years old and lives with her fiancÃ© in an outer metropolitan suburb. Lisa and her mother first suspected something was 'wrong' when her brother was 19. Having been away at university where she said her brother had taken part in 'colourful things' including taking drugs, he had returned home to their country town. Usually 'bubbly and conversational', Lisa's brother became non-verbal and ate and slept very little, which Lisa's mother attributed to 'drug withdrawal'. The fact that his uncharacteristic behaviour was due to something more serious became evident when he attempted suicide, which Lisa said she remembers vividly because she was the one who found him. She was 10 years old, and her caring role for him began at that point.
Following his suicide attempt, Lisa's brother was hospitalised where it came out he was hearing voices that were telling him to end his life. Kept in seclusion, Lisa said her brother was 'constantly' finding ways to try to take his own life. Lisa's brother was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis but this was subsequently changed in later years to schizoaffective disorder. After that initial episode, Lisa said her brother stayed 'quite well' and on the same antipsychotic medication for about 15 years.
Four years ago, Lisa's brother was admitted for compulsory treatment for six weeks, which prompted Lisa, then aged 25, to 'enter the system' as his sole carer. This relapse came about, Lisa explained, when in order to lose weight he had gained as a side effect of his medication, her brother took up running. He decided to 'experiment' with substituting running for medication, and told his psychologist who advised him against stopping his medication 'cold turkey', which he ignored. After he caught a cold and was bedridden for a few days, Lisa said his psychotic symptoms returned and he attempted to kill himself. In the past year, Lisa's brother experienced six episodes and was hospitalised each time. Since his last admission, he has been 'doing well'.
Lisa said certain areas should be a matter of priority for reform in the mental health system, which she thinks is crisis-oriented. She described how a gap in the system meant her brother was at one point unable to access any service because he was 'too sick' to access private services and 'too well' to get into a public ward. Another concern for Lisa is that young carers are not afforded much decision making power. She emphasised the need for carers of any age to be given 'resources' to learn how they can better support decision making around their loved ones' treatment.
Caring for her brother has made Lisa more joyful, she said, in her everyday existence. It makes her more appreciative of things which are often taken for granted like being 'happy and healthy' in mind and body.