Parenting a child with mental health problems, ASD/ADHD and addiction.
I have decided to document the last week of our lives to outline the emotional, psychological, and physical difficulties that we faced as a family. The impact of one family member’s addiction plays a major and all-consuming part in the lives of our entire family leading to stress, fear, anxiety, illness, depression, financial loss, damage to property, involvement from Police, worry to neighbours, and breakdown in family relationships. Ultimately this is no life for anyone involved, most of the implications are left for myself to deal with the best I can with any energy that I am left with.
My son is 18 years old. He was diagnosed with ASD when he was 11 following difficulties in school and emotional distress due to hyper anxiety and an inability to cope with everyday situations. To ease his anxiety, he tried cannabis and found that it slowed his fast-moving brain down and in his own words he felt ‘normal’. As time went on his cannabis use grew and CAMHS became aware of this. He had been prescribed medication for anxiety and depression but following 3 failed requests for him to relinquish drug use CAMHS decided to stop his medication and let him get on with his life with no further treatment options.
When he was 16, he was referred for an ADHD assessment. This took one year to complete. He was found to have ADHD but due to his drug use, which had escalated to street Valium, cocaine, and alcohol, CAMHS made the decision to wait until he entered adult services before medication should be offered to him. This would take a further 18 months. He started ADHD medication 6 weeks ago at the age of 18 years and 7 months.
During his time under the care of CAMHS, he had a Social Worker and Drug Worker. He was resistant to intervention as he had major trust issues with all adults and services. His mental health was in disarray prior to any drug use but was never supported in a way that brought any help, support or change to him or us as a family.
Whilst under the care of CAMHS he cut himself, ran away (requiring police intervention) attempted to take his own life on three occasions by paracetamol overdose, attempted to take his life by drinking bleach, attempted to take his own life by stealing my car and crashing it. On every occasion, he was seen at A&E and discharged as ‘fit for home’. He has made his wishes not to be alive on many occasions to every professional he has encountered, part of his ASD is that he is extremely honest. He once told me “Mum, boys like me are not meant for this world, it’s too busy, too complicated and I just can’t cope with life on life’s terms”.
Through diagnosis, he has always been vulnerable. He’s been groomed by drug dealers who can spot and hunt down these children who are ripe for exploitation. They spot the ASD/ADHD traits outside the school gates. They provide the cannabis in the beginning and free of cost, progress through the drug groups until they have the child exactly where they need them. They enter a life of drug-running and trap houses. An exploited child will look up to someone who appears to have lots of money, fast cars, weapons, and power.
The child’s whole identity is swallowed up in an illegal world. Every service in every community knows this, every police officer who knows him knows this, each social worker from children and families through to criminal justice knows this, drug worker, Head teacher, Children’s panel member, Court official, and NHS employees all know this. Ultimately though it is the family, the mother and/or father who is left to deal with the implications of managing an ‘unmanageable life’.
My son reached a point when he was 15 where I could not keep him or others safe. I asked for the ultimate betrayal of my son and had him moved to an education and care centre. He spent 6 months there. Due to COVID, the services available were very limited. His options to learn vocational skills were unavailable. His anxiety kept him in his room most of the time. He stayed there for 6 months then he returned home, straight back to the drug dealers who continually targeted him.
I am the main carer for my son. I was a nurse and my last position was as a third sector community worker. I have Osteoarthritis in my knees and Fibromyalgia which is an auto-immune disorder that causes pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. I genuinely believe that this is due to a stress and trauma response to living this way for such a long period of time. His father lives abroad. He has two older brothers who have watched this cycle of misery for the last 7 years. Their education and social lives were severely impacted, and their confidence and ability to express themselves as adolescent boys were affected. It’s been three years now since I have worked in paid employment. The responsibility of holding down a job is impossible as trying to maintain the safety of my son is a full-time job.
His brothers have experienced trauma whilst trying to help him grow and learn how to behave. His frequent meltdowns have created an abusive atmosphere at home. I can liken it to ‘walking on eggshells’. We live in a way that attempts to prevent any upset or anger for him leading to a physical or verbal outburst/meltdown, to avoid the associated damage to the house or himself. I can say that we are all traumatised. There is no normality to our lives.
This Week – Sat 15th April
Following a continuation of his decreasing mental health state with frequent auditory and visual delusions and hallucinations I made a ‘call of concern’ to the police. The police attended my house that evening but following a conversation, I was told there was nothing that could be done as he would not willingly go to A&E.
Sunday 16th April
A day at home with my son running around the house, looking out windows terrified that people were coming to ‘chop him up’. He left the house in the evening and didn’t return home. I didn’t sleep due to concern about his safety.
Monday 17th April
He arrived home at 11 a.m. Very anxious, and drug use was obvious. He repeatedly checked doors and windows to ensure they were locked. He went from rage and blame towards me to tears and apologies for his bizarre behaviour. His fear and paranoia continued until mid-afternoon when I became so concerned, that I called Crown House (mental health service) to speak to his CPN. I had to whisper whilst making this call due to his paranoia. I was told his nurse wasn’t available and the one on-call staff member was busy.
I texted my son’s social worker for advice, but I got no response. Since found out she was on annual leave.
I sent out a text to Daryl at Scottish Families, I attend a weekly meeting where Daryl is the facilitator. As I was able to text him this was easier than trying to speak on the phone. I told him I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do. I explained he didn’t need the police and that mental health services were busy. With my agreement, Daryl called for an ambulance for support and access to a mental health assessment. My son had placed golf clubs all around the house and had taken a knife from the kitchen drawer. Daryl had to inform them that weapons were present.
In response to this call, a fast-response police van arrived at my house containing 8 police officers. A few officers made their way upstairs and had a conversation with my son. The ambulance was told to stand down and after 15 minutes the police dropped my son off at his friends’ house round the corner. I was asked if I wanted to press any charges against my son. I responded by saying “How can I charge him with being paranoid, delusional and using drugs?” No further action was taken.
Daryl contacted the Mental Health Dept via email to be responded with an ‘on annual leave’ response.
I did not receive a call from Crown House following my call for support.
My son stayed with his friend that night but returned to my house the following morning.
Tuesday 18th April
Received a text from a social worker telling me she was in Court but would call me later in the day. I never got that call.
My son continued to display signs of paranoia and auditory hallucinations. Whenever I tried to talk to him, he would become angry and agitated. He left the house crying and stayed away all day and night. You can imagine the worry and concern I feel for him. He may be 18 but his emotional maturity is that of a 12-year-old.
Wednesday 19th April
My son arrived home mid-afternoon again. He seemed clean and sober with a desire to stop taking drugs and a hope that he might be ready to consider a proper mental health assessment.
I received a call from his social worker. She explained that she was aware of his auditory and visual hallucinations as he’d shared with her three weeks previously. Her intention was to refer him for a full cognitive assessment, but she didn’t confirm with me if that referral had been made.
She gave me information about the mental health crisis team which I had never heard of and that I should contact them and have my concerns noted to maybe speed up his cognitive assessment. By this time, it was late afternoon.
In the meantime, my son was upstairs talking in his room with himself. It is so bad sometimes I believe he has friends in his room but he’s on his own. Once again, he left the house, and I didn’t see him again.
This entire week my eldest son has not returned home as he just can’t cope with his brother being in such a state all the time. We as family members are not trained in how to deal with a mental health crisis.
I have had threats to my house and my own safety from a drug dealer.
I have had the mother of another drug user telling me that she wants to see my son dead due to a disagreement that her son and he have had.
Neighbours in my street found a large kitchen knife and baseball bat hidden at the side of their house. They contacted the Police, and they removed it. It was either placed there by my son or left there by someone attempting to see him coming or going. The police have not mentioned this to me. Another neighbour has now had to make the decision that her 6-year-old son isn’t safe playing in the cul-de-sac with his wee friends. That’s a tough one for me because now my son’s behaviour is directly affecting another family.
From my own experience and that of other mothers, it seems that ASD/ADHD and other behavioural issues lead to a higher incidence of drug and alcohol use as a coping mechanism. The mental health services, both child and adult are not designed for these young people.
We sincerely need to look at another option for these young men (and occasionally women). The system of non-care in CAMHS may in fact be leading to escalating drug use and ultimately drug deaths. This just isn’t good enough.
My son is better than this. His inability to ‘conform’ in high school due to ASD leads to exclusion, victimisation, self-consciousness, low self-esteem, social injustice, unemployment feelings of worthlessness and ultimately a growing desire to belong to anything that will accept him.
My son and boys like him need to be protected from exploitation. They are so loved and so wanted.
Our love has power, and our lived experience can teach Scotland and its leaders how we can help change the way our boys are treated and supported. Can we help each other to make life better?