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Schizophrenia, my brother and me

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 Imogen

Imogen blogs about her brother's experience of schizophrenia and how it affects her family.

Place: Santa Monica, USA
Time: 24 March, 2016, 14:03 local time

My brother is in a police cell tonight, he's spent the night there, back in the UK.

Tomorrow he goes to court after being found with an air rifle on him. He was walking through fields near home to practise shooting his air pellets at the rifle targets.

He loves the outdoors; he used to be a cowboy in Australia, loves to set up camp, start a campfire and brew some fireside tea.

The police have agreed that he didn't have any malicious intent.  Yet he's spent the night all on his own, in a blank, four walls.

I wonder if there were windows?

My brother has had schizophrenia for the last five years. You've probably heard about it – and you might be thinking, he sounds dangerous. 

"But the facts show that most people with schizophrenia are not a danger to society."

It's another example of the media skewing coverage of mental health to grab headlines and clicks.

You don't often hear about those managing schizophrenia and getting on with their lives do you?

But my brother with schizophrenia is very different from my brother before schizophrenia, I can see similarities but a lot has changed. 

"How do I get to be on the other side of the world and my brother is in a cell tonight?"

It's phases like this, when I feel only a few steps away from the shame talk taking on a life of its own. In these moments, I hate myself but I feel closer to my brother.

I wonder what my brother is thinking as the sun starts to rise in the UK? And what he thinks of me?

Oceans and realities apart.


Place: Granada, Nicaragua
Time: 11 August 2016, 11:45

I’m now in Nicaragua, hot and humid and 7 hours behind the UK.

I’m exchanging WhatsApp voice messages with my brother, he’s in the garage at home.

He was denied bail by the local magistrate the morning after and sent back to his cell, on remand.

Although I was not able to speak to my brother in prison I was able to email him through email service (I later found out these emails were printed and read to him).

He phoned home and spoke to my mum, not fully understanding why he'd been put there.

Due to the Easter weekend and unspent holiday in the judicial system my brother was in prison for ten days – ten days! The first five days he was not allowed any visitors because of the bureaucracy.

And he had been hit in the face for his cigarettes on his first morning.


"Is this where vulnerable people with mental health issues should end up?"

Compassion is needed here, not punishment.

Finally when his appeal was held, a judge decided he was allowed to go home under bail conditions.

When my brother came home, he was very hyper and anxious, arguably traumatised. He was paranoid about going to prison again, worried that his minor misdemeanours as a teenager might come back to haunt him as well as less rational concerns.

He wasn't sleeping well, his speech and writing more detached than usual. It took more than ten days for him to be more relaxed.

We spoke more often during this period, I was often trying to say calming things in response to his worries but also talking about normal daily activities.

An anxious four weeks passed awaiting a court date, my mother helped pull together his case, building a picture of my brother above and beyond his mental illness.

"My brother is a three dimensional character, complex with a pitted history, like most of us. He is not just his mental illness."

We are grateful that the judge believed in compassion not punishment as well.

My brother has been given 18 months probation and one-on-one workshops to talk through his choices. This programme will be built around my brother's needs.

We are all very relieved with the outcome. Recently my brother had been falling through the mental health service cracks, not bad enough to be involved with the crisis team but his community support team had staff shortages and the focus always seems to be on medication not a more holistic approach.

There is renewed impetus with my brother’s care, I am delighted to say he is now meeting his community nurse regularly, they have a good rapport and play pool.

He has started seeing a psychologist and there have been some very thought-provoking workshops, so he tells me. My brother has also started volunteering at a local charity helping to plant new trees.

"It is tragic that my brother had to go through such an ordeal to, in the end, receive the care he needed."

And he's back in the garage again, doing his woodwork.

Yes, my brother is quite the carpenter too.

See the person, not the illness...


For more information on the topics covered in this blog see our info on helping friends and family with schizophrenia.

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