Age at interview: 54
Background: Sue lives with her son and father in an outer metropolitan suburb, and is a full-time carer. She is divorced and has two children. Sue was born in Greece and identifies as having a Greek-Australian background.
Sue has been involved in her son's daily care and treatment for the last 10 years. Sue's son was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia in 2004, aged 14. He has been admitted to hospital multiple times and has tried a variety of medications.
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More about Sue
Looking back on her experience of becoming a carer, Sue described how her son's illness 'probably saved' them both because it motivated her to remove herself and her son from a situation in which she'd felt 'trapped'.
Sue is 54 years old, divorced and has two adult children. Formerly employed in finance, she currently cares full-time for her 26-year-old son who lives with Sue and her father. Sue described how her son first showed signs of becoming 'unwell' when he was 14 in the same year that their family moved from Australia to Greece. He began locking himself in his room saying he wanted to be 'left alone', and he sometimes became 'violent', which Sue said was completely out of character since before that he'd always been gentle and softly spoken.
Sue said she took her son to a mental health team but they weren't qualified to give a diagnosis. She then got 'in a panic' because she felt she didn't know where to start looking for help from the Greek health system, which influenced her decision to bring him 'home' to Australia for treatment.
After they returned to Victoria, Sue's son was placed in an adolescent unit in a hospital. Nine months into his stay, Sue's son was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia, which Sue said she found 'devastating' but thought was 'right' because she herself could see that he was hearing voices. Sue said she is grateful to his treating team for providing 'amazing' care for her son, and for being extremely supportive of her.
Sue described medication as not optional but vital because in her view it was the only way to 'heal' her son's 'illness of the mind'. But she said it took time and some research on her part to find the 'correct' amount that enabled her son to function with minimal side effects and only faint auditory symptoms. Sue reduced his dosage 'drastically' three years ago after he had a fit in response to excessive medication. Now she feels she and her son's psychiatrist have collaborated to find a 'very good balance' with his medication.
Sue said she blamed herself for a long time because she thought she should have acted more promptly to get her son treatment, particularly since there was a 'tendency' towards depression in her family. Sue said she was 'in denial' when her son first became ill, in part because at that time she'd had to cope with moving to a new country and with her ex-husband's aggressive behaviour. She still finds it difficult to talk about that traumatic period, which she believes contributed to triggering her son's mental illness.
Yet Sue said she feels fortunate that her son is so 'easy' to work with because he trusts and listens to the people caring for him, including herself and his doctors. She is currently focused on helping her son to care for himself 'to the best of his ability', and she plans to pursue a career as a support worker in primary schools.