The discussion of mental health has come into the spotlight over the past few years. It is being talked about in every home in North America. Everyone has been affected by it somehow, either you know someone with it, or you are suffering from it yourself. After Robin Williams killed himself, instead of simply mourning his loss, people reminded each other that we need to look, really look, at mental health. When a deranged gunman opened fire in downtown Ottawa, people gathered their wits and saw the crime for what it really was – despite what the government tried to make it out to be. It was not an act of terror, it was a rampage by a madman. The gunman fell through the cracks…or, in this case, the chasm of a decaying social safety net.
Sadly, that net has been decaying for a long time, in fact, I’m not even sure if it was ever properly woven, but it’s taken a huge hit most recently. Our government would rather turn our attention elsewhere than face ridicule for how it has single-handedly weakened our social programs to the point where they are barely able to function. People aren’t that easily distracted though and more and more are calling for measures to be taken to help the vulnerable. People are tired of seeing so much misery when solutions are available. Our government, however, isn’t only to blame. Helping those who need it most, appears to be an elusive skill right down to our local governments and institutions. So many who deviate from our so-called norm struggling to function in a society built only to serve the norm get passed around from place to place because no one really wants to deal with them. Psycho-therapeutic drugs are pushed on people; a quick, band-aid solution because the underlying issues are too messy to work with. Even more importantly, the wrong people are suggesting solutions to something which they have no expertise instead of making a simple referral.
Lest you think I’m talking about something that I’ve only read about or heard about, let me tell you something. Someone who is very close to me has been greatly affected by mental health issues – very serious and destructive issues. I’ve seen the effects first hand. This person, whose name I am not using for her own privacy, has a son who is now in the court system because he, too, fell through the cracks. Today she wrote about her thoughts and experiences in an essay which was what prompted this post. Her story is one of heartbreak but also of love. Her writing not only demonstrates her frustrations but her determination. She has included information which could be very useful to other parents who are facing the same problems. Even if you are not a parent with a child who needs help, this article is a true testament to the state of affairs in our country and, as we’ve seen, is a problem that affects us all. Please read her story here and pass the link along so that we can all be involved in this very important discussion. The more we talk about it, the more we will all be aware of where help IS available and who to turn to. Eventually, let’s hope our discussion can help to build a stronger system where NO ONE falls through.
A Mother’s Letter
(Note: Experiences expressed in this letter are particular to the area in which this writer lives. People living in other areas may have different experiences)
Mental Health has entered into our family and reared its ugly head for the last ten years. Before exhausting all our options alone, and becoming frustrated before an incident happened, we had no idea what resources were open to us before it was too late. Your G.P will not usually refer you to a mental health facility/counselor, but will prescribe anti depressants. Ours was brilliant (tongue in cheek) enough to prescribe a medication for ADHD which had absolutely no relevance to my sons issues. He did so with a weak description of symptoms at that time coming from a 13-year-old who was unsure of what he was going through and therefore could not communicate what he needed from our health practitioner. Troubling as well he had parents who believed what he was going through at that age were “growing pains”. We were ignorant to the fact he was indeed showing classic signs of depression, anxiety, anger issues which lead to a black hole of behavioural issues. All before the age of 14. Who wouldn’t realize this was beyond the normal hormone change? Our G.P. prescribed this medication without fully understanding his train of thought and anxiety. He prescribed a medication that had a street value and so began our journey into prescription drug addiction and a temporary but dangerous means of making money independently as a preteen. We stopped refilling once we were aware of what was happening. He still found a way of getting his hands on even the most dangerous of drugs. He is no saint. AND dare I say this. The gateway WAS marijuana. Period. Let the controversy begin, please give me one reason to express my feeling on that.
What we have learned and what most parents or individuals don’t know is assistance from a mental health counselor is available to you through your school board. The entire family is afforded six free sessions, separately. That means each member is allowed to seek individual assistance if needed for six weeks, free. This was never offered to us regardless where the information from his OSR (Ontario Student Record) pointed to. Their answer was to permanently de-register my son, through a written letter, no meeting, before exhausting all areas of assistance that we begged and pleaded for since he was seven years old. This then turned into a year and half of trying to locate a school in our jurisdiction to take him on, his special needs, his past history, his education. His education. “No child shall be turned away”. Hm hmm.
We supported the Catholic School Board, and when the Catholic schools wouldn’t take him because he didn’t meet the requirements we were told it would be in our best interest to seek registration with the Public School Board and good luck. We then went through every public school in our jurisdiction, only to be told they do not have the funding for his needs and let the Catholics look after it. This is truth. This turned into countless letters to the school board and CC’d to our MP. Nothing came of it and my son was sitting with a grade ten education. We considered correspondence however if you are under the age of 18 you need to be registered with a school board in order to enroll otherwise the cost to you is $500 per class.(based on the resources and channels we went through) He needed over twenty credits. We then looked into a GED (General Ed) class. They were willing to consider his application before the age of 18. We went to countless meetings, we set up a time-table and got as far as registering and a date to start. We then received a letter from the college a week prior to starting. “We regret to inform you however as of January 2013 we can no longer accept students under the age of 18”. Nobody wanted to touch him.
Then finally we found an alternative learning program at one of the public schools and only because a close friend mentioned it during a conversation. At least he was a registered student again, but there was no structure to these classes and he craves structure in order to stay focused. My son is brilliant, quick-witted and more than capable of learning. At the age of 12 he completed third in a biathalon with over 2500 participants. He’s athletic, a genius when it comes to math, and his musical talents would blow you away, what he can pick up on a guitar by listening to a song once. Regardless what he has done in his past, I know my son is in there and I love him so very, very much and I’m frustrated that I’m unable to help him, I feel guilty that I, a stay at home mother who was attentive to the point of paranoia, didn’t pick up the signs that would eventually destroy my sons self-esteem, confidence, and mental well-being. This is not an “Oh, woe is me” cry, this is just a mom who feels she failed her son on so many levels and the past four years have consumed me to the point of obsession to help him, but I can’t do that without the proper guidance. There is always a road block where there shouldn’t be when it comes to our children. I’ve said it before and have been very vocal. The time we received help was when his behaviour finally escalated and he found himself belonging to the courts. I no longer have control over a situation that we can help him get out of. Other than to ensure he has a good defence lawyer.
THE POINT TO ALL OF THIS – If your child has been identified with a learning disability, you know all to well that with a learning disability comes behavioural issues. Sometimes well beyond parenting. Sometimes too much for a child to bear on his shoulders because he doesn’t understand why he’s like this and impulse behaviour is only a brief satisfaction before suffering consequences. And this is just a fraction of their suffering while as a parent you’re justifying, enabling and making excuses for their behaviour out of sheer ignorance and denial. You have got to play hard ball, read, read, read what other parents going through similar situations have posted or blogged about out of mere bewilderment that it’s happening to them, and sometimes it just feels better when written down, they are the ones who can offer support through experience. Educate yourself, if you don’t understand what your child’s teacher is saying during meetings, tell them to dumb it down so you have a clearer understanding, ask questions upon questions, upon questions and write those answers down. Ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist if he/she is unable to help, surely to God they have information but why is it so damn hard to obtain the information? Know that help is offered through our Mental Health association be it through the school board your son or daughter is attending, be it through the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) – It should be posted in your work place above the WSIB information.
Join a parent group, you would be surprised how alone you are NOT. Talk with a child/parent conflict manager, they’re available through CAS (Children’s Aid Society). Most importantly, talk, talk and talk with your child. Something triggers them to misbehave in ways some of us cannot fathom and unless you have a designation in psychiatry you’ll never get it. Know their friends and what their friends are bringing into your home. Those backpacks aren’t harbouring school books. And for the love of God, don’t let them attend the Youth Centre. It’s a breeding ground for fights, drugs, and all sorts of trouble. I don’t think it’s always been like that but when I say it’s not controlled, I mean in every aspect it’s not controlled or monitored.
A year ago my son was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, weapons dangerous, burglary. November 15 at 6:01 am our house was raided. We had 15 men from the Police Tactical Unit surrounding/securing our home, we had five officers searching our home inside and out and finally we were evacuated from our home so they may continue looking for whatever it was they were looking for. Search Warrants are not something to take lightly. Until that day, we had our issues but lead a very quiet life, operated a reputable business within the community. One of which we take pride in, it’s our livelihood. One we operate from our home, off a highway our most loyal customers drive to their work place everyday. As selfish as this sounds, I was concerned who was going to see the circus in our front yard and never call us again? We have lost friends who think that our sons actions is something we should be crucified for and charged with as well as he. But we also had our families combined, our friends who stuck by us and have supported us. Who know my son and genuinely care about him and see all the good that is inside of him, who he really is. A good kid, with poor decision-making skills, with low self-esteem, who surrounds himself with like peers because that is where he is accepted. A son whose actions validate what he believes he’s worth.
I will say this, I’ve never, ever had a gun drawn on me until that day. And all I could think about was, “what has he done”? To this day I can still describe the smell of the officer who detained me in my bedroom for over an hour. I did not see my son leave the house handcuffed and thrown into a cruiser. Information to us was not allowed to be provided until the bail hearing and even then it was vague. Until we retained a lawyer we didn’t understand the full extent of our sons actions. I was beside myself. I made the hardest decision of my life that day, with my mother beside me. I denied bail and let him spend time in detention until his next hearing. He was able to call me from the facility. I couldn’t talk to him. Conversation was cut short and when I hung up, I cried and I cried hard. How can I save him from this? Who is he?
Our experience has taught us, there are so many programs available to our youth. Drug and Alcohol Counselling (this one is tricky because the individual has to go through the process of wanting this help and they will fall time and time again) and therapy and guidance through our Youth Mental Health, the Heads Up program which involves a psychiatrist. These all offered to us, not by court order, but coming out of the mortar when your child messes up big. All these programs that our School Boards are aware of. I still don’t know what the right question would be to initiate this help when talking with your teacher or principal, if this hadn’t happened, we would still not be aware of these programs that help our youth. I’m hoping with the beginning of our Government’s involvement with Mental Health, these programs will be included in orientation news letters and promoted through our schools to make parents aware they’re not alone and help is there.
My son has a chance at being offered the D.A.R.E Program for six to nine months as his sentencing. The sad part is, he has to be recommended by a parole officer through the courts. There are countless interviews and applications to be filled out and signed and documentation supporting his purpose for applying before he can be given the chance. Here is something you need to know. Project D.A.R.E offers a youth at risk program. Your school board is aware of this program and should be readily available as an alternative to parents who see their child suffering. With the help of the student’s OSR and through meetings with the teacher/principal you can gauge where your child might be on the risk meter. This program can be initiated through parental referral. Teachers have our children between six to eight hours a day and they see first hand how they respond to authority, how they progress academically, how they interact with peers, who their peers are and sometimes, there are children who act much differently in school than they do outside of school in front of their parents. Such was our case. We thought both our boys were saints. Boy, were we slapped hard in the face when we realized they weren’t. Schools have the resources to help if you have the slightest suspicion your child is slipping into the danger zone. You need to know about these resources when it becomes out of your control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be persistent.
I wish all of this didn’t happen, but in the same sentence let me say it opened doors for us to get him the help he needs now and we go forward and we continue to be his support. He will be a productive member of society and my wish for him is to thumb his nose at those who thought he was not worth the effort, or a lost cause, or unteachable. Sometimes the biggest bullies are the adults without knowing the effects their words and actions have. And that’s only part of it.
What I’m proud of is how he’s handled this situation without so much as blaming anyone but himself. He continues to face the music, which is a hard, hard lesson. He is cognizant of his actions, how much harm he’s done not only to his victim, but to his family. He’s regained the confidence to realize he can obtain his high school diploma with hard work and determination. The hardest thing he had to endure before even considering his future was becoming clean and sober. With the help of the programs listed above, he’s conditioned his way of thinking and feeling worthy and capable of moving forward. His plan remains, as it did when he was a little boy, to join the military. It’s a long road and may have a lot of barriers but I know, he’ll break them down and no matter how long it takes him to achieve a sound, stable, healthy and happy life, he’ll get there. I have faith in him.
I’ve written this and if you know me, nothing is ever short and to the point, but if I can help at least one family who have recognized themselves in this, then I feel I haven’t failed my son. He’s opened my eyes and I’ve never been alone, I just didn’t educate myself to know what was out there to help me. I’m not ashamed of sharing this. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to seek the help you may need. Bring forward Mental Health. It may be the most important thing you’ve ever done for your loved ones.