My wife and I married in 1974 and moved into our house in Hawera. She often tried to stop me from going to work because she felt she couldn’t cope. My work suffered because I feared she would commit suicide while I was away.
She became pregnant and the depression got worse after our first baby. The doctors called it post-natal depression. She regularly visited our family G.P. so I went with her to see what could be done to help. He prescribed me with Valium and advised us not to have more children. My wife got pregnant with our second child and, after the birth, her health deteriorated and she attempted to take her own life. That night a new doctor came to the house to give her a sedative. He wasn’t satisfied with the treatment and took over her case. This change prompted a referral to a specialist and she was admitted into hospital. I took leave from work to look after our two babies. After eight weeks my wife was on a new medication and seemed cured.
In 1979 we moved to New Plymouth to be closer to medical services. The depression had come back and for the next 25 years my wife had many suicide threats and attempts and was repeatedly admitted to the mental health inpatient unit.
She was prescribed with large doses of antidepressants and other medications. None of them worked. What followed was an addiction to alcohol and prescribed diazepam, imovane and zoplicone. This lead her to addiction counselling, psychologist sessions and many crisis team interventions; Women’s Refuge and respite care on several occasions. Our son became addicted to methamphetamine, which made things worse. My wife tried to take her own life again. My grandchildren found her and my son and daughter removed the rope and took her down.
In 2005 my wife was eventually placed in the Short Term Emergency Placement (STEP) programme run by Alcohol & Drug services, where she was detoxed. She was placed under a compulsory treatment order and sent to Nova Lodge in Christchurch. Two days later she was discharged for being underweight and threatening to jump under a bus. 24 hours after her return, I reached my limit; I called the crisis team and they took her into hospital.
The family had had enough and we wouldn’t accept her discharge from hospital. We disagreed with their diagnosis. We asserted we knew her well, stating we were unable to take her into our care. I was told that I was disillusioned with ‘the system’ and I should get support for myself, which I already had.
From my perspective over the years, the depression pills never really worked. The medical services were very good but weren’t capable of a mental cure. The diagnosis wasn’t forthcoming and often changed, which lead me to my impression; they don’t really properly understand the mind. Nobody wanted me to assist in the healing process. I was made to feel like part of the problem. No one took the time to explain psychosis to me. My wife slipped through many cracks in the system. No one seemed to look at the repeated crises.
I had no idea where to go for help. I thought maybe “Supporting Families” but didn’t really want to go because I was afraid. When I overcame my fear I met a very capable counsellor who took me through the Caregiver’s Prevention of Suicide course. Later I received counselling from the Alcohol & Drug service at the DHB, then joined a family members’ support group, now called Families Overcoming Addiction, which I continue to attend. We meet each week to share our experiences, coping strategies and communication techniques, and it’s where I give and receive the support I need to live well today.