LORRAINE Abernethy reflects on her son Tony?s troubled life.
LORRAINE Abernethy reflects on her son Tony?s troubled life.

Mum fights stigma of mental illness for son


"YOU are always told to prepare yourself for that one, dreadful phone call, but nothing you do ever can."

Last month, Kingscliff woman Lorraine Abernethy got the call every parent dreads one that she had been told to expect for 16 years.

At only 33, her passionate and generous son Tony was dead. Described by friends as a "troubled genius", he had killed himself.

For much of his life, Tony had battled a mental illness with the care and support of his close and loving family. But in the end it was all too much to bear.

"He was university educated, intelligent, but starved of social interaction and a job because of the illness. That was part of what he found difficult to live with," Lorraine said.

For his mother, Tony's death was a blow too tough to imagine. A 16-year battle against the illness with her son, quickly transformed into a solitary hell.

"One of the hardest things about mental illness is the stigma in society about it," she said.

"One night we were out and Tony caught up with us. He had been drinking - he used alcohol as a means to an end. He looked pret- ty terrible. We were in a restaurant all talking, including Tony, when a waitress came up and asked me if 'that man' was giving me trouble. 'That man' was my son and I took him home. There is a fear in society."

For a long time, Lorraine battled Tony's mental illness with him. As a carer, it was as tough on her as it was on him.

"As a carer you get brought into their madness, you doubt yourself. You know your family member, and are trying to work out their illness," she said.

"You love that person and you are engaged with someone that is not them. They cut themselves off and you cop a lot of flack.

"Even through all the turmoil, all you ever want is for your loved one to have the best life possible."

With Tony gone, Lorraine is using her art to cope. She is also sharing her experience with other carers and sufferers through a new support group in Tweed Heads.

After 12-months of planning and with the support of friends, the Tweed Valley Mental Health Carers Network has been formed to provide support, education and advocacy to carers and friends. It is the only group of its kind in the Tweed.

"I want something positive to come of Tony's death. I wish to raise the level of awareness to give mental illness a voice that might make a difference to services," she said.

The group has an office in the Tweed Community Mental Health Centre at the Tweed Hospital, which is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am and 4pm.

"I was lucky. I have a lot of personal support and it made a difference. I find it difficult to talk to people about my experience, but by doing so I might help someone," said Lorraine.

For information call (07) 5506 7336.

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