Bernadette

Bernadette

Preferred name: Bernadette
Age at Interview: 42
Gender: Female
Age at first diagnosis: 40

Background: Bernadette is separated from her husband and lives with her children, aged 10, 8 and 6, in a metropolitan city. Bernadette works as a lawyer. She identifies as Anglo-Australian.

About Bernadette

Bernadette described how she began experiencing 'disturbances of thought' that she attributed to treatment she was receiving for hepatitis C and pressure from work. She was later admitted to hospital where she was diagnosed with psychosis and placed on 'massive doses' of antipsychotics. She was released after 6 weeks and worked with her doctor to reduce her medication.

More about Bernadette

Bernadette likened psychosis to being in a 'permanent emergency situation.' She said that at the time, she just wanted 'clear directions' and only the 'most essential communication.'

Bernadette described how she was receiving treatment for hepatitis C when she first noticed that she was 'becoming unwell.' A side effect of the treatment was 'disturbances of thought.' Around the same time Bernadette was also experiencing some 'intensely stressful stuff' at work which 'flipped' her over the edge. She continued to see her psychologist but remembers 'becoming more and more disturbed.'

Hoping to be treated at home rather than in hospital, Bernadette sought a referral to a private psychiatrist for treatment. She said the psychiatrist 'wasn't overly concerned' and put her on a 'very low dose' of an antipsychotic. Her work became 'more complicated' at this time and she decided to travel interstate and stay in a hotel. Bernadette said that family and friends called the police and other authorities because they were concerned about her, but denied doing so. She feels that this 'covert help' contributed to her paranoia and exacerbated her illness.

When she experienced 'overwhelming anxiety,' Bernadette took herself to hospital hoping she would be seen by a doctor and sent home but was immediately admitted involuntarily. She said she was placed in intensive care and then seclusion for several days. The 'massive doses' of antipsychotic medication she was prescribed made her sleepy, and she 'really flipped out' when she was placed in seclusion. Bernadette described how it felt like she was being 'sequestered' because in the initial part of her stay she was not allowed to contact her family and was 'never told' that friends and family were trying to contact her. At the same time, her parents, who she was estranged from, were in contact with her doctors.

While in hospital, Bernadette remembers dealing mainly with the registrar who 'actually did listen' and receiving some 'excellent' help from a chaplain. For her appearances before the Mental Health Review Board*, Bernadette felt supported by the Legal Aid Lawyer she had requested, however it was 'upsetting to hear' that support workers thought that she could not look after her children. She was discharged after six weeks in hospital. Bernadette feels that the lack of transparency in the decisions made around her treatment contributed to her lack of trust and perpetuated the underlying problems and distress that she was experiencing.

Bernadette 'trusted' the doctor that she visited on her return home because she listened 'more carefully' to her. She also appreciated the support of a social worker who acted on her directive not to give any information to her parents. Over six months Bernadette gradually reduced her medication with her doctor. She said that she is slowly piecing her 'life back together' but feels that it is going to take a 'long time.'

Bernadette said each day she is 'more confident that she is not going to slip back into psychosis,' but that if it happened she would seek help more quickly to prevent becoming 'so unwell again.'

* Now called the Mental Health Tribunal.