Nick and his wife have cared for their son with paranoid schizophrenia for almost 12 years. In the beginning Nick didn’t feel heard by health professionals, but today he is very involved.
Nick is 74, and is living with his wife just outside London. They have two grown-up children, a son and a daughter. Nick retired in 1989 aged 55 after having worked in the news industry. For the last 12 years Nick and his wife have cared for their son Nathan who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
When Nathan was a teenager, beginning university, his parents started noticing strange behaviour. They were told by health professionals it was nothing to worry about. Even when signs became clearer and they provided written information, they were not heard. They were obliged to believe the clinicians judgement, which allowed their son’s condition to go untreated, which led to a suicide attempt in 1995 when he slashed his throat. After emergency hospital care, Nathan convinced health professionals to release him into the care of his parents.
Nick and his wife did not know much about mental illness at the time and were not any given relevant information or told what to look out for, or how important it was that Nathan took his medication. Over the years, there have been times when Nathan has avoided taking his medicine. This can result in violent behaviour and he has attacked Nick, and others, several times. He has been in hospital since his last violent episode in late 2005. Today, Nathan’s condition is improving and Nick and his wife are hopeful that we will be released from the section in the very near future.
Nick feels strongly that carers need to be trained and supported. Family members are expected to provide care in the community without being educated about even basic mental health issues. Nick felt unprepared when he became a carer, and with the right information his job could have been much easier.
Nick is sure it was drug abuse that caused his son’s mental health problems. He emphasises that it is important for school teachers and others working with children to learn about these things. Today, Nick has learnt a lot about his son’s condition and is now involved in the medical care of his son. He is taken seriously by health professionals and works together with them. He has developed a very close relationships to his son.
Stigma and fear can make it difficult to be open and talk about mental illness, and for a long time Nick and his wife felt they couldn’t tell family, friend or neighbours about the details of their son’s illness.
Carers groups have been very helpful for Nick as a place where people can learn from each other and help each other. Nick strongly believes that education of carers is key to helping both carers themselves, and the people they care for.