Preferred name: Chris
Age at Interview: 41
Age at diagnosis: 18
Background: Chris is single and shares a house with a friend in a large city. He is Australian born and identifies as being from an Anglo background.
Chris received a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder at age 18. He has spent time in mental health units and was homeless for a period. Chris has been on and off a variety of medications. He is seeing a GP and is prescribed an antipsychotic.
More about Chris
Chris described the past 23 years since he began experiencing symptoms of schizoaffective disorder as a 'journey', and referred to himself as a 'survivor'. He currently lives with a friend in long term public housing in 'a good area' in a large city and said he derives 'great satisfaction' from his work as a volunteer in the mental health sector.
Chris first began experiencing symptoms in his late teens following an army reserve training exercise that placed him 'under a lot of pressure'. The next day he woke up to hear his 'commanding officer's voice inside [his] head', which Chris said he didn't initially know how to 'cope' with. He described his family (his mother in particular) as a key source of support during this period, which he described as 'very frightening'.
Chris received a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder at the age of 18. He said that receiving this diagnosis led to treatment with 'nasty side effects', which caused him to feel as though 'the cure was worse than the symptoms'. When he was first diagnosed, he was voluntarily admitted into a private psychiatric hospital where his psychiatrist prescribed several different antipsychotic medications. Chris experienced severe side-effects in response to one medication in particular. Things began to improve when he started seeing another psychiatrist who changed Chris's medication. He has been taking the same antipsychotic since he was 25, and said in comparison to previous medications it made him feel 'more alert, more focused'.
Having spent time in mental health units, Chris identified some differences between the public and private health systems. He said while private hospitals offered 'discretion' and 'personal choice', in public hospitals he had felt like 'a prisoner' as they 'wouldn't discharge [him]'. Chris reflected that he had learned to 'be totally compliant', explaining that 'when you convince them that you're willing to be submissive â€¦ then they'll let you out'. Yet Chris said he feels he's 'always been lucky' to have had caseworkers, social workers and nurses who 'guided' him at critical junctures in navigating the health system, getting into residential programs, and finding accommodation.
For Chris, having accommodation is very important, as he was homeless for 'many, many years'. He said having a place to live, together with medication and 'appropriate family supports', are the 'foundations' that have enabled him to 'go to places where [he] never thought possible'. This has included completing a 12-month tertiary leadership course and finding work in a mental health service.
Chris has been seeing the same GP, with whom he has a very good relationship, for over 10 years. He said that such continuous care offers more 'stability' in his treatment, which has enabled him to 'stay out of hospital' and negotiate a lower dose of medication. Chris likens recovery to 'seeing the light at the end of the tunnel'. His advice to others is to 'never give up' but to commit to 'getting through that tunnel' and journeying 'towards the light'.