Name: Laura
Age at interview: 40
Gender: Female

Background: Laura lives with her husband and two children (aged 15 and 18) from a previous relationship in a regional centre in Victoria. Born in Australia, she identifies as Anglo-Australian. Laura describes herself as a 'new carer' because she recently had to leave her casual government job in order to care for her husband.

About Laura

Laura is caring for her husband. She has been in a relationship with him for five years. Aged 42, her husband was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia in his early 20s. Laura, her husband and children moved from a city to regional Victoria about two years ago. After Laura's husband lost his job and then suffered a back injury around eighteen months ago, his symptoms worsened. Laura has found navigating the public mental health system in a rural area difficult.

More about Laura

Laura says the transition to caring full-time for her husband, aged 42, over the past year came as a 'huge shock' because the change had a 'massive' impact on her sense of purpose.

Laura is 40 years old and has two children from a previous relationship. About five years ago she met her husband who told her from the outset that he had received diagnoses of bipolar and schizophrenia in his early 20s. Laura described how when they got married, he was 'fun,' 'happy' and 'easy going,' and had been working in the same job for 17 years, which she said formed an important part of his identity. After he moved two years ago from the city to the country, he lost his new job and hurt his back, which she said led to a deterioration of his wellbeing.

During the first 18 months that the family lived in regional Victoria, Laura's partner consulted the local GP for his back, and was prescribed a 'cocktail of pain medication'. As a result of the 'terrible' side effects of the medication, Laura observed that her husband got 'very depressed' and she noticed a 'massive increase' in his anxiety levels and paranoia. She then pushed to get her husband an appointment with a psychiatrist, but before he could be seen an incident occurred that prompted her to call the Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) team to take him to hospital.

Laura has found accessing help through the public system in a regional area 'just horrendous'. After her husband's hospitalisation, it was six months before he was given an appointment with a psychiatrist. Laura thinks it might be easier to get 'better' care in the city and has told her husband that she would like them to relocate if things do not improve.

Laura feels the public mental health system is geared towards crisis intervention, which means that people with mental health issues often only get help if they 'commit a crime' or are perceived to pose a threat to themselves or others. She thinks it should be reoriented towards 'preventative action'. Her advice to mental health practitioners is to speak in 'layman's terms' and to 'listen' to what caregivers say because they live with the person being cared for '24/7' and therefore know them best.

'Good' caregiving, in Laura's view, does not just rely on medication but deals with the 'whole being' of the person who is 'unwell'. Her own health has suffered, which she attributes to stress brought on by caregiving. Laura said this has influenced her belief that 'self-care' is important for caregivers. Laura recently joined a carer support group and sees two counsellors, which she described as important sources of support.

Laura said it has been hard for her to accept that she and her partner have had to 'put their dreams on the backburner'. She hopes that both her husband's and her own health will improve so that they can return to pursuing their shared dream of building a house together.