Preferred name: Sarah
Age at Interview: 29
Age at diagnosis: 22
Background: Sarah is in a relationship and lives in an inner suburb of a large city. She currently works in retail and volunteers with a charity. Sarah was born in Australia and identifies as having an Australian / Irish / Scottish / English background.
Sarah was 22 and travelling overseas when she became very unwell. When she returned to Australia, after spending some time in a private clinic, she was admitted as an involuntary patient at a public hospital. Sarah said she has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder but believes her mental health issue to be a delusional disorder. She is currently prescribed antipsychotic medication and sees a psychiatrist.
More about Sarah
At age 22, Sarah went on an overseas retreat to 'get an understanding' about who she was. Then working as an exotic dancer, she had been taking drugs and 'binge drinking' for the previous seven years. Sarah described feeling 'fragile and changing' and said she had 'many questions' about what direction her life should take.
However, Sarah became very unwell toward the end of her time overseas. While she stated that she had previously experienced anxiety, depression and body image issues, Sarah described this experience as 'a total world collapse'. She felt frightened and 'confused', experienced delusional thoughts, and said she wasn't eating or drinking.
After her mother brought her back to Australia, Sarah became an involuntary patient at a public hospital. She described feeling that she had 'no control' over decisions made about her in hospital, that she was 'trapped' like a 'prisoner', and as though she wasn't being listened to.
While in hospital, Sarah had her first experience of taking medication. She described this as 'really scary', because it felt like a 'heavy haze' had come over her. Not liking the side effects, Sarah did not continue with her initial prescription. However, she described her current antipsychotic medication as 'pretty good'.
After leaving hospital, Sarah was supported by a case worker and psychiatrists, and attended a 'really good' group recovery program through a community centre. Four years later, she experienced a second 'episode' while coming off her medication. This episode was 'much easier to manage', and Sarah was connected with a Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) team and put back on medication.
Sarah described her contact with doctors and psychiatrists as sometimes giving her a 'cold feeling' due to the 'administrative feel' when they converse with her. She also described being 'scared' of doctors, because she felt they had the 'power' to make decisions about her and her medication. A year ago, Sarah decided to 'be part of' the decisions about her treatment. Deciding herself, in consultation with her psychiatrist, to reduce her medication made her feel 'empowered'. Sarah thinks it is 'really important' that people feel in control of decisions made about their healthcare.
Sarah feels it would be useful if doctors were non-judgmental, built trust, and operated in 'youth friendly' environments. She said 'talk therapy', stress regulation strategies and a more caring approach from doctors would have been helpful for her in the acute phases of being mentally unwell, to have more options than medication alone. Sarah would have liked to have had someone to calm her down, listen to her and 'be open-minded' when she experienced an episode. She also said it would be useful if people had somewhere to go other than hospital to have 'space' to recover.
Sarah said having a supportive family has helped her, and giving up alcohol and drugs has been 'one of the most important things' in becoming well again. Exercise, meditation, hobbies and setting goals are other helpful strategies. Sarah is commencing a Master's degree next year. She would eventually like to discontinue medication.