Learning about mental illness through a family member…

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously I Never Knew Much About Mental Illness – I Had No Reason To…

peter petterson

First published  at the Yahoo Contributor Network
Mar 24, 2009

“A brief backgrounder on our mentally unwell and intellectually challenged grandson. Our past problems and the challenges for his future:

I never really thought too much about mental disorders when they affected somebody else’s family member. I really had no reason to. That was somebody else’s problem – another family’s problem, not ours, not mine!

We have been bringing up our grandson for over nine years now. He was a youngster of only eight and a bit years when our local state child welfare agency, Child Youth and Family, asked us to take him into our care at that time. He had been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and a couple of other associated disorders as well, at the age of six years old. He had serious learning disorders and was totally illiterate. He could perform his mathematics ie – arithmetic etc, to a higher level than his reading and writing which was at a learners level. He has learned to spell his own name through repetition and use it as his signature. During his assesment it was also discovered he had a minor intellectual problem which may well have some involvement in his disorders.

A month or to short of his fifteenth birtday he had the first of his psychotic episodes, which resulted in a stay at a youth psychiatric hospital outside of Wellington, New Zealand. Of course he was introduced to medication as a means to bring him back to reality. He has been on medication ever since. After a few weeks in the hospital he returned home and back to his secondary school. He had always been a special needs student and found his schooling extremely difficult and stressful. Just how stressful we would learn in later years. The reasons for his mental illness may have been through the accumalative affect of alcohol, drugs and a lack of sleep.

He would later run foul of the school authorities who just had no clue about his problems and that his real need was not only special education but the need to be in a special school all together, not just in some class or unit. There was an incident which resulted in his being suspended permanently or expelled from school. In New Zealand a school has to find another school for a student they wish to suspend permanently. We knew there wan’t another school he could go to, and we tried a couple of special units, one at another secondary school, but it was totally unsuccessful. New Zealand made a number of changes a couple of decades ago, but they have proven to be a disaster for a minority of special needs students. There is no doubt that the changes were based on money, not in the real interests of special needs students.

He wasn’t able to move out into the community and spent his time confined to home. He would only go out on outings with family members. He continued to be treated by a psychiatrist and on his psychotic medication. About 18 months ago he had a second psychotic episode after displaying deteriorating levels of behaviour for over three weeks, but his support team from the local hospital refused to listen to our concerns. This was an extremely serious breakdown which resulted in his admission to an adult psychiatric unit because there were no beds in the youth unit at another hospital he had spent time in previously. He was an extremely sick young man. After a couple of months of treatment he was released and sent home. His medication had been increased and extended. We refused to let the previous support group monitor hs progress after he had left hospital; we had totally no faith in their ability to look after his interests.

He continued to be homebound and had no contact with outside groups other than his support team and doctor. A few weeks ago he suffered a relapse and had to be admitted to the local hospital psychiatric unit. He had some extensive treatment over a few days, had his medication changed, and spent most of his time on home leave. There was an incident in the unit which I won’t elaborate on here – it was an out of character incident involving psychiatric nurses having to physically restrain him and put him in isolation. He has returned home but his behaviour at times is marginal, but has not yet resulted in him having to go back to hospital.

He is 18 years old in a couple of weeks and an adult by law and legally responsible for himself. We have grave concerns for his future well being and doubts about where he will live in the future once we, his grandparents, are no longer able to look after him. We are unsure whether any member of the family, including his mother, will be in a position to look after him. We are now into a new year and possibly a new phase in this now young man’s future.

We now have some experiences of looking after somebody with a mental disorder and the challenges involved. When it is part of your own family it comes as shock, especially some of the behaviour connected with this condition.

He has had another assessment which may prove to his advantage; the results being released only in the last week or so. His low IQ rating should ensure he gets the help and support he needs, including future residential care which is unavailable for those with only psychiatric problems. Small mercies, but some progress.

In closing:

They have closed all the institutions and just provide psych wards and units in public hospitals. The youth unit about 20 miles from Wellington has 13 beds; my grandson has spent a total of weeks in the adult unit when the youth unit was booked out. We all know how the mentally ill were treated 30 years ago and we have no wish to go back to hard medication and shock treatment, but surely there can be a middle ground. Money was undoubtably behind the reduction in residential accomadation, not because they really wanted to improve treatment – individuals may have been – but not the system!

I will shock a few people when I distribute the latest assessment to a few places around the city. They let my grandson down badly during the last few years and will be told in no uncertain terms!”


As this was written over four years ago, it needs to be updated. Nothing much has been changed since – only the medications, personnel changes and a system that needs up-rooting. I will have to give that some real thought in coming months.

http://voices.yahoo.com/myths-mental-illness-why-cant-they-understand-2859.html?cat=5     Another patient’s story:

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2 thoughts on “Learning about mental illness through a family member…

  1. Pingback: Facing the schizophrenic demons as a family… | huttriverofnz

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