Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Edward - Interview 10

Age at interview: 59
Age at diagnosis: 20

Brief outline: Edward, 59, was born in Australia and diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 20. A former head teacher, he took early retirement for health reasons and now stacks supermarket shelves. He believes his condition is caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Background: Shelf stacker in retail, divorced with 1 adult child. Ethnic background/nationality: White Welsh Australian (born in Australia, Welsh father).

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Edward, 59, is a former head teacher who has worked as a shelf stacker in a supermarket since taking early retirement due to ill-health. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 20, and has experienced depression. 

Edward describes schizophrenia as a chemical imbalance related to the fight or flight mechanism which affects emotions and perceptions. Edward believes his schizophrenia arose as a result of genetic and environmental factors' Edward's mother had schizophrenia and he was raised by his grandparents. Edward first met his father when he was sent to the UK aged 7. When he was sent to boarding school, Edward felt isolated and like he was being punished. 

He returned to Australia aged 20, where he experienced his first episode of psychosis which he believes was triggered by the shock of meeting his mother for the first time combined with the shock of migration. Edward began to doubt his capacity to stay well, leading him to seek help. He voluntarily went into hospital and had electro convulsive therapy which helped, but led to some insignificant memory loss such as his pre-migration farewell party in England. He took medication (Stelazine and Kemadrin) but believes tablets only offer “temporary relief”, unlike talking therapies which move you forward. Edward identifies more with British culture than Australian, and describes finding it difficult to explain his culture to his (Australian) psychiatrist. 

Edward took early retirement for health reasons because he was feeling depressed and suicidal. Edward says losing his career and professional identity made him ask “what am I now?” and it has taken him 7 years to re-establish himself. He says his identity was also affected by his migration back to the UK, and this added to his feelings of isolation. Edward has had a very positive experience of mental health services in the UK - feeling understood and believed was crucial. He advises professionals to let people talk and make it clear that they're believed.

Edward urges people to not feel afraid and recommends that they find a psychiatrist they empathise with and can explain things to, listen to their doctors and nurses, exercise, eat a balanced diet, keep in touch with friends, avoid alcohol and perception altering drugs (e.g. cannabis) - Edward does so in order to safeguard his sense of reality. Warning signs for Edward include excessive paranoia, depression, persistent general anxiety, excessive thirst, mixing up words and loss of function. His self-awareness (aided by monitoring his thoughts and progress in a diary) has enabled Edward to avoid another episode of psychosis. However, Edward recognises that when depressed, it's difficult to have enough self-esteem to undertake this “repair job”. 

Edward now sees schizophrenia as a kind of gift or “enabling disability” that gives him insight into other people's feelings and situations that others don't have. Although it's taken many years and has been difficult to achieve self-acceptance, Edward is happy and proud to be who he is.


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