Mental health and my son
Mental Health is a subject a lot of people don't really open up about but I wanted to share my story with you hoping that it may help someone in a similar situation and raise awareness of the support or lack thereof for a teenager dealing with mental health issues.
I do have my son's permission to share our story and bring to life the real struggles I am facing to get my son the adequate support he needs. For many years I have been told to keep my concerns and worries within the family and somehow pretend everything was ok.
But speaking out for the first time in the workplace and to friends is helping me become a stronger person but also a better mum. Why? Because I want my son to not be ashamed, to be proud of wanting help and to one day be a role model for others.
The warning signs
Being a single mum of two, working full time i have had my experience with anxiety and stress being the only person supporting my children; it can be overwhelming at times. However two years ago my life took a turn when at the age of fifteen my eldest son’s behaviour started to change. At high school he had to deal with bullying, needing support for his dyslexia and leaving his old friends from primary school behind to start a very daunting chapter in his life.
He didn't enjoy high school, he felt he didn't fit in anywhere, then the world changed and COVID hit. Unfortunately he didn't get to take his GCSE’s, go to prom, celebrate the happy occasions a teenager should experience. Instead he became very withdrawn from me and his family, the ones who have raised him, supported him, and have been there every step of the way.
During this time at high school I had raised concerns to many teachers from his class tutor to the Head of Year about my son feeling angry, frustrated and not supported. However at the time they put it down to him being a typical lad rebelling. At this time I wish I had known the first signs, could I have done something sooner? Is mental health discussed in the classroom with teenagers? I wish my son would have known more about the initial signs of mental health issues back then to give him the courage to speak up to and to understand that others were going through the same thing he was.
The not knowing
After school ended, he became angry with us, lashing out, then one night he decided to leave home and didn't return for months. Scared and worried, I made the decision to call social services and the police to try and get support. Hoping they could help me to get him home safely, instead I was turned away. My son stayed with his grandmother, a woman who was hardly involved in my son's life but in the eyes of the law and social services he is with a relative and deemed as safe. Despite many efforts of me trying to speak to my son through her she dismissed any efforts I made. I felt both her and her family were isolating my son from me.
After a long anxious wait he finally returned home but he wasn't my son anymore. The fun, loving, caring lad he once was, was gone. I tried everything to get him to talk to me but it was difficult. The only thing he told me was that he was experiencing anxiety symptoms and not sleeping well, but little did i know what was round the corner.
In December 2020 he ran away from home for the second time, this time he got involved with people who used him to access money for drugs and drink. At this point, unbenown to me, he was at his lowest. He describes it now as an out of body experience where he was so easily influenced due to the fact he didn’t care what happened to him. He stopped all forms of caring for himself, not eating or showering and at times didn’t even know where he was. This time he was gone for six weeks, again I called social services and the police but because he told them he was safe they said there was nothing they could do.
The location where he was at the time was well-known to the police for drugs. Considering he is a minor, the police should have brought him home. But in reality, despite his age as long as he says he is safe and doesn't want to return home there is nothing the police can do in the eyes of the law. This absolutely needs to change. If a teenager is known to the police for suffering with a mental health problem, then they should be returned home with permission from their legal guardian.
The words no mum ever wants to hear
I raised my concerns again with social services and this time they seemed more concerned for his wellbeing. A social worker came to the house where I learnt he had started self harming which resulted in him being taken to hospital. When I asked why, he told me it was his way of releasing his frustrations when he felt angry. I was so upset and felt again as a mum that I had failed him, why didn't he talk to me?
We were put on a waiting list, he saw the mental health crisis team in hospital, was assigned a youth worker and after weeks of numerous calls and emails he got an appointment. I thought this time he would get the support he needs and hopefully be on the road to recovery. But this was not the case and we were once again left with no support system in place.
The issue is that my son is seventeen years old now. The system deems him too old to be a child yet too young to be an adult, so we are stuck in a limbo. Child services will not put a plan in place as he’s eighteen in January and Adult services will not start a long term plan until he is eighteen. I am fighting for my son's life alone.
A mental health support service once told me that my son will only be classed as a critical case if he was successful in his suicide attempts or hospitalised for life threatening injuries. I was shocked and sickened by this response. How many other families have experienced that?
In September 2021 he attempted to take his life again. This time he threw himself in front of a moving train. If it wasn't for a local gentleman who noticed something was wrong, decided to follow him and save his life, I would probably be planning his funeral. After nearly two years of being on this rollercoaster we are still waiting to get a long term plan in place. One thing I know is that as a mum, I will never give up fighting.
1 in 4 teenagers in the past year alone self harm due to mental health issues.
The NHS confirmed that 41% of hospital admissions in 2019 for self harming injuries were all teenagers.
There is very little support for parents to help understand and recognise their child's mental health symptoms. I have been educating myself and reading up on this topic hoping I can learn to understand my son's needs more.
Every step of the way, I've come across hurdles and barriers to access the appropriate support for my son and I. So much of this article is what I wish we had access to or I wish I had known. Our journey has had a financial impact on me as I'm paying for private therapy for my son but as long as he’s safe, healthy and one day happy again it is all worth it.
Today, still very much in the midst of his last suicide attempt and still battling our overwhelmed mental health services, I am thankful for the support I have recieved. For HR who gave me the outlet to speak honestly about how I was feeling. And to my wonderful manager Meera who has let me change my working hours to enable me to attend mental health meetings with my son and be more present. She has been there for me every step of the way. These actions enable me to fight for a future with my son in it.