Today, instead of celebrating my son’s 18th birthday, I’m grieving the loss of him no longer being here. Willie was 16 on Feb 1st 2012 when he took his own life and ended his struggle with mental illness in a horribly permanent way.
Willie wasn’t bullied, either in person or via the numerous cyber-bullying means which are so widely talked about and acknowledged now. He was one of the thousands of “others”. The youth who suffer from a myriad of disorders of the mind ranging from anxiety to depression to early-psychosis and so many more; too many to list. Mental illnesses that are quiet and internal – a veritable bullying from the inside for these youth. Depression and anxiety and the small early warning signs of psychosis that mimic other disorders don’t have someone to blame and point a collective finger at to demand help and intervention. There is no single antagonist, no group even to direct admonishments towards and strive to enact laws and consequences for behaviour that hurts and destroys like bullying does.
To often, for these youth, they suffer alone and many times purposely hide their symptoms and fears. I know my son did. Until it became too much for him and, in a moment of clarity, he reached out to me and asked for help from what was scaring him and destroying his own mind.
What followed was a journey that was short and so chaotic as to be unbelievable, even now, looking back in retrospect. A journey that highlighted, for our family, that there are glaring issues in the mental health system that need to be addressed and changed. I have come to see that the problems I encountered were not, and are not, isolated issues – but rather, an ongoing and well known lacking that is seemingly impossible to correct.
From our family doctor who ignored the first concerns when he was 13 as “normal teenage behaviour”; then brushing off my son’s note stating his desire to be dead as a “bluff”.
From the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit medical personnel who refused to see journals that outlined a dark and worsening mental illness. That choice resulting in treatment and a diagnosis that was akin to being treated for the flu when you have cancer.
From government agencies and contracted private counsellors who gave conflicting information of avenues of assistance upon his release from the hospital we heard the doors of help slamming shut on our son. Promises (made in writing) of who would provide follow-up psychiatric care ending with my phone calls and visits and questions in circles. Psychiatric care that never did come.
We were faced with “help” that was not designed to actually do anything other than move the youth out as fast as possible to ensure that the beds were available for the next one to come along who was in worse condition. A system that is tragically under-funded and has a demand on it that it has no way of satisfying in its current state. Staff and medical personnel that have their hearts in the right place but know that they are just putting bandages on wounds that need far more.
When my son gave me a handwritten note telling me that he thought he needed medical help; that he wanted to be dead and that he didn’t know what to do, I promised him we would find help and that it would be alright. I promised him that there were doctors and places for help for what he was going through. I convinced him to try and to hold on to that hope. He did – until he felt, from what he saw, that there was no hope.
I’m not certain how the changes need to be enacted but I do know that not one more person should ever get to the point that my son did of losing hope in a system that’s main reason of being is to provide that.