Name: Saskia
Age at interview: 35
Gender: Female

Background: Saskia lives in an inner metropolitan suburb and works as an artist. Saskia is from an Indonesian-Dutch background.

About Saskia

Saskia's younger sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 20. She has been hospitalised involuntarily twice and has tried a variety of medications. Saskia became her sister's primary carer about 11 years ago following the death of their father.

More about Saskia

Saskia described herself and her sister as being on a 'combined journey' that began 10 years ago when Saskia became her sister's primary caregiver.

Aged 35, Saskia is an artist and photographer. She said she first noticed her sister was starting to behave 'strangely' when her sister was still in high school. Saskia's sister moved to Victoria when she was 16, from living with their mother interstate to living with Saskia, then aged 19, and their father in a Buddhist meditation centre in a city where their father worked as a Buddhist teacher and spiritual guide. About a year later, Saskia noticed her sister, who she described as being 'very charismatic and social,' becoming 'introverted'. Over the next four years, Saskia observed her sister growing increasingly 'worried, anxious, and confused' about 'meanings behind people's words'. While on a holiday with their mother, Saskia's sister became acutely unwell, and began 'scrambling' her words, which prompted their mother to consult a psychiatrist who diagnosed Saskia's sister, then aged 20, with schizophrenia.

Saskia's sister returned to Victoria after she was diagnosed, and about three years later, their father died after a long illness. As her sister's only relative in Victoria, Saskia said she finally realised she had a 'role' to play in caring for her sister when she was involuntarily admitted for the first time, aged 24, to a mental health unit, where she stayed for about three weeks. Five years later when her sister became 'unwell' again, Saskia and her mother made the 'difficult decision' to consult a psychiatrist who recommended her sister be admitted to hospital, where she stayed for about a month. Kept for several days in a form of 'solitary confinement', Saskia said her sister felt her 'voice was taken away', and was 'angry' with Saskia for the part she thought she had played in the events leading to her second hospitalisation. After this experience, Saskia's sister decided to exclude Saskia from consultations with mental health practitioners. While Saskia said she 'respects' her sister's decision, she also feels that if she was privy to information about her sister's treatment, then she might worry less about her sister becoming 'unwell' again.

Saskia said she 'worries the whole time' for her sister, particularly about her living arrangements and finances, which she described as the more 'difficult issues to deal with'. Saskia said a factor that has influenced her decision to work part-time jobs has been that she believes a full-time job would not leave her the 'head space' she feels she needs to be there for her sister. Supporting her sister involves being available for daily contact on the phone, and meeting up in person 'two or three times a week', where Saskia provides emotional and practical guidance and support. Saskia said their shared experience of 'learning to deal' with her sister's 'illness' over the past 10 years has been 'painful,' but that they have 'grown together' as a result of this journey.