Preferred name: Anna
Age at Interview: 47
Age at diagnosis: 46
Background: Anna is a student and is married.
Anna has a current diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar disorder. At age 40 she was diagnosed with major depression and has been admitted to hospital regularly since. Anna has received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and has tried many different medications including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers.
Read excerpts from Anna's interview
> Searching for information - In response to not receiving enough information from a mental health practitioner about her diagnosis, Anna turned to the internet.
> Negotiating daily life - Anna cares for her eldest son, but finds that she struggles with daily household tasks. She described how she felt 'incapable of doing the most basic things' when she made the decision to have electroconvulsive therapy.
> Experiences with mental health practitioners: Psychiatrists, counsellors and others - Although Anna currently has a 'fantastic' psychiatrist, in the past she found psychiatrists to be 'egocentric'.
> Experiences with mental health practitioners: Psychiatrists, counsellors and others - Anna said she'd had many bad experiences with psychiatrists. She felt that psychiatrists 'often misdiagnose' and aren't ready to change the treatment when it 'doesn't work'.
> Self help strategies - Anna explained how creating quiet time helped her to manage her tendency to 'overthink things'.
> Mental Health Community Support Services and Peer Support - Anna's support workers are 'fantastic' and allow her to have her say about her support plan. She thinks senior medical staff should listen to more to them.
> Support in treatment decisions - Anna didn't feel there was any supported decision making in hospital. In contrast, she described her relationship with her current psychiatrist as a 'partnership'.
> How to increase participation in decision making - Anna said her psychiatrist was 'progressive' and thought about real alternatives to getting her well.
> Discrimination and social responses to mental health problems - Anna didn't think she could work because she had to take regular time off. She spoke to someone from a mental health organisation but felt they didn't understand her problem.
> Personal recovery - For Anna, recovery was 'elusive'. She thought it was better to talk about 'living with and surviving' mental health problems.
> Advice to others: Health, mental health and allied health professionals - Anna preferred the more 'holistic' person-centred approach used by community support services over the medical model used by psychiatrists and nurses. She wants health and mental health professionals to be more focused on the person.
More about Anna
Anna has experienced considerable stress throughout her life, including many years of caring for her oldest son, who has a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a mental health problem. As a result, when she was around 40 Anna attempted to end her life. She was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with major depression. During the past seven years she has made further suicide attempts and has been admitted to various hospitals about once every three months, usually for a three to five week period. Anna explained that she was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder but at 46 she was re-diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder.
Anna described feeling 'scared' about being admitted to hospital and was critical of the treatment she experienced there. She said she has at times become an involuntary patient as a result of disagreeing with the recommended treatment. Anna feels that as an involuntary patient the hospital staff have the opportunity to 'do what they like' with her. She described being treated like 'a dog in a pound' and said she has been put in 'shackles' and in seclusion, and considered that her loss of autonomy in these situations had the effect of 're-traumatising' her.
Anna also described being 'forced' to receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) whilst on an involuntary treatment order, despite being 'really, really against' it. As a result of undergoing several courses of ECT, Anna said she has lost many memories including intimate and special memories that can't be recovered. Her ability to concentrate has also been severely affected. Her husband has tried to advocate on her behalf to prevent her from receiving ECT in the future. However Anna feels that he has been ignored, describing the treatment of him by mental health staff as 'disgusting'.
Anna said that over the years she has received 'many cocktails of medication and at many strengths', including antidepressants, antipsychotic medications and mood stabilisers. She currently experiences significant side effects from these medications, including heart problems, weight gain, 'fogginess', sleeplessness, a racing heart, nausea and headaches. Anna said she would 'prefer not to take medication', and feels that it does not improve her symptoms.
Anna described having mental health issues as a 'hidden disability', and said she would like people to understand 'how difficult it actually is'. She also feels that those who work with people who have mental health problems, particularly in the public sector, require better education in order to provide appropriate 'holistic' and 'person-centred' support and information. Other than her current psychiatrist, Anna felt most psychiatrists 'don't spend enough time' to diagnose patients with 'complex disorders' and are often not abreast of the current treatments and medications.
Describing her life as a 'rollercoaster', Anna said she doesn't look toward the future because she is unsure she can 'survive another cycle' of the highs and 'crushing lows' that she experiences. However, Anna currently feels cared for, and described the community organisations she is in contact with as 'brilliant' and 'extremely supportive'. She has a 'fantastic' psychiatrist who works in 'partnership' with her. As a result of this approach, Anna feels respected and has regained her 'dignity'. She is also trying to engage in more self-care within the parameters of respite funding allocations. Anna described making the most of every second when she is lucid and feeling well. With the help of her psychiatrist and outreach worker, Anna is trying to reconnect with the community and is hopeful that the current treatment will allow her to complete her degree.