Real life stories
My sister has schizophrenia and spends every penny she’s given
I’m Katherine, I’m a retired school teacher originally from Bristol but I live my life in Edinburgh now. My sister, Laura who’s 49 now became unwell when she was 16. Under the big umbrella of schizophrenia, she suffers with a thought disorder so she’s not paranoid, she doesn’t hear voices but her thoughts are muddled. It’s a bit like listening to a toddler, and a toddler is best understood by the people that are closest to that toddler - you know when they are learning to speak and they say funny words. When they are trying to say the right words and they can’t so it’s a little bit like that.
If there’s money around, she will spend it.
And there has always been issues around money. Laura didn’t normally have a bank card but when she passed a cash machine she would usually push some sort of card into the bank card slot, hoping that it would give her money – it never did.
If she had any money she would always spend it immediately and then ask for more. That meant she never had any because she would just spend it. Any money she would get wouldn’t be spent on the things she needed. It would be spent on something silly like a tent or a toy from the Argos catalogue, none of which she needed.
Building up debt
On one occasion she had some sort of card that she was able to use. She built up £800 in debts within a couple of months by buying clothes and gifts that she didn’t need. Goodness knows how she got the card in the first place! She was never good at filling in those kinds of forms but she got the card anyway.
When she couldn’t repay the card company she was threatened by the bailiffs. As it happened she was staying in a mental health nursing home at the time so the bailiffs couldn’t come into the home and turf her out. My brother and I said we just weren’t paying it, but if we hadn’t been in the system, if she hadn’t been in a mental health nursing home and if we hadn’t been supported by a consultant that had known her for many years, we could have felt under pressure to pay that money.
Thankfully the psychiatrist we were seeing offered to write a few words explaining Laura’s condition, the impact it has had on her capacity to look after money and the fact that Laura was under clinical care. That hit the spot! We never heard back from the debt collection agents. What a relief.
A change in circumstance
She was lucky enough to have stayed in that mental health nursing home for the last 30 years and they had looked after her bank account and benefits whilst she was there.
Unfortunately as she got older her physical health started to suffer too. She had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis so her home couldn’t treat her for that as well. They told us her new home couldn’t continue to look after her finances which was disappointing.
Applying for lasting power of attorney
Laura’s mental health nursing home suggested to me that it might be worth getting a lasting power of attorney (LPA) set-up so that I could manage her finances on her behalf which made sense really. I spoke to a solicitor who talked me through the process and drew up the necessarily documents. I then had to apply to the Office of the Public Guardian to register my LPA and gain powers to manage Laura’s finances. It took about 8 weeks of email and phone call exchanges but we got there.
I said to Laura ‘Your nursing home have been dealing with your finances all these years but they won’t be doing it anymore. The time has come where I have to look after your bills’. She genuinely understood that and just accepted it.
Once I had lasting power of attorney I went to Laura’s bank and made the necessary arrangements to look after her bank account, in and out-goings.
I knew it was going to be the best way forwards, it would give us that power to make sure things didn’t go too array. I’ve been dealing with it for so long now, I’ve realised I have become an expert by experience!
Light at the end of the tunnel
Things have been good in the past year because she has accepted that I’m paying her bills.
When I go to see her she will always ask for money and we can’t talk about anything else until I give her a small amount which is usually around £30 from her bank account but then she’s happy. It won’t break the bank and I certainly won’t allow that to happen. It just means that I’ve got extra strength in my elbow, it makes it easier for me.
Mum and I have also been members of the local support group for the last 20 years which has been so useful for that emotional support. It’s been comforting to meet others in a similar position and actually to help them as much as it’s helped us.