Name: Alexia
Age at interview: 52
Gender: Female

Background: Alexia lives with her son and husband in an outer metropolitan suburb. She moved to Australia when she was 18, and identifies as both Middle Eastern and Australian.

About Alexia

Alexia cares full-time for her son, and works as a volunteer one day a week with families of people living with mental illness and addiction. Alexia's son was diagnosed with episode psychosis when he was 21, schizoaffective disorder when he was 26, and personality disorder when he was 29. He has been hospitalised involuntarily eight times, and has been placed under several Community Treatment Orders (CTOs).

More about Alexia

Alexia says that one benefit of her quest over the last ten years to find 'holistic' treatment for her son is that she has changed for the better into a 'different person'.

A homemaker, Alexia is 52 years old and married with two adult children. For the past decade, she has cared for her 30-year-old son who lives with her and her husband. Alexia described first suspecting her son was using 'illicit' drugs when he was 14 and said she thought this was an escape from tensions at home. When her son was a teenager, Alexia feared he would be found 'dead in a gutter' due to his 'addiction' to drugs, which he continues to use.

Alexia noticed her son was acting 'paranoid' when he was 20, and he was hospitalised and diagnosed with first and second episode psychosis at 23. Five years later he received a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, after which some members of Alexia's cultural community claimed there was 'nothing wrong' with him, and 'blamed' her for 'throwing' him into hospital. This made her feel 'judged' at the time when she needed support.

A main obstacle Alexia feels she has had to overcome has been the 'unprofessional' behaviour of some mental health practitioners. Her son's case manager told him when he was 26 that he was not mentally ill but just had 'anger issues'. Alexia believes that since then her son has 'lived in denial' about having a mental illness, which she said has made caring for him difficult. Alexia said her son's treating team also ignored her whenever she tried to warn them that he was relapsing. She also questioned the quality of treatment her son received at the hands of a psychiatrist who she said called her son a 'liar' when he diagnosed him at the age of 29 with personality disorder.

Alexia's son has been hospitalised eight times in ten years and discharged each time on a CTO. Alexia feels that he is stuck in a 'cycle' of receiving a fortnightly mandatory depot injection of antipsychotic medication whilst under a CTO, then relapsing after the CTO is lifted. In Alexia's view, depot injections do not count as 'proper treatment' for people like her son who have both a mental illness and a drug addiction. She said they just 'keep him hanging', and described her worry that there will be no one to prevent him from falling through the 'cracks' of the mental health system after she dies.

Alexia thinks her son urgently needs a dual diagnosis, in recognition of both his mental illness and substance abuse problem. This would make him eligible to see a dual diagnosis counsellor who could explore the 'layers' behind his mental illness and addiction.

Although the challenges she has faced have been 'heartbreaking', Alexia said they have also enabled her to find her voice and to speak out about her experiences. She hopes that hearing her story might help others facing similar challenges.