05-15-2017 11:07 AM - last edited on 05-16-2017 01:10 PM by Ngaio-RO
Hi everyone....I'm new here and this is my first post. I wish I had of joined earlier, our family has struggled for years now. I'll try to be brief....we have a 16 year old son, an only child. First saw a personality change in Year 6 when he grew to hate school as a result of persistent bullying. There was self-harm, anger, sadness etc...all very sad at age 11. Prior to that, he was the happiest most placid, kind and loving child. We moved him at the end of Year 6 to another school. Year 7 and 8 were okay at the new school, although he still saw the school counsellor regularly. At the end of first term in Year 9, he was diagnosed with severe depression, social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder and mild psychosis. He was able to complete half of Year 9 and half of Year 10 with a lot of help from us (mum and dad) and enormous support from the school. He has struggled everyday. He is on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Going to school every day is like climbing Mt Everest for him. I took extended leave from my job two years ago to support him and my husband has adjusted his working hours till 9-3pm and has one day off a week to support me to support our son. It takes both of us to get him to school. He is quite sedated in the morning from his medication (and maybe depression and anxiety) and after his shower we usually find him lying cold and wet on the bathroom floor...often asleep again. He struggles with his work because of the negative symptoms of the psychosis, the depression and the anxiety. He struggles with concentration, focus, understanding, comprehension, organisation, apathy, motivation....he struggles with bright light, noise etc. Suffers migraines. Usually vomits at school once or twice a day as a result of his medication (and/or anxiety). He wants to be at school but also hates it...does that make sense? We feel he just can't get well with the pressure of Year 11 and in the school environment. Last Wednesday, he walked home from school about 10:30am...just walked out of the school grounds, didn't tell anyone and didn't ask permission. He just turned up at home and said 'I'm done'. Since then we have had one episode of running away, one of self-harm, a lot of anger. His behaviour was slipping a bit at school and he was getting detentions and had his phone confiscated for a week. My husband and I feel that we can't ask anymore of him. We are worried about how much more pressure he can take. He has weekly psychological support and he has his medication, but is still struggling. The school has been amazing and they will be so sad if he leaves. So will I...but then that is my issue, not my son's. Has anyone else had a similar situation?? Thanks so much for your thoughts.
05-15-2017 02:51 PM
Hello @lucille Welcome to Reach Out parents!! Thank you so much for your lovely post.
Your warmth just flows from the screen!! What an amazing family you guys sound like.
I'd like to congratulate you and your husband for being such amazing, devoted parents. I'm sure your son doesn't feel lucky in many ways but I hope, deep down, he knows how lucky he is to have you both. You both sound incredible. And exhausted.
And you son sounds amazing too. What a soldier. He's clearly carried a huge weight for a long time. My heart absolutely goes out to him. I think you've all done so well and worked so hard to keep him in school, I completely understand if you feel it's time to give it a rest.
I'm a pragmatist when it comes to education, I believe that anyone there against their will is unlikely to learn. I've also worked with many young people and adults who have rejected school in their teens and then educated themselves using alternative pathways. Sometimes it doesn't happen until they're adults but it happens.
I'm guessing if your son is 16 then he's required to attend. Is that correct?
05-15-2017 03:24 PM
Thank you so much for your kind and supportive welcome and reply Ngaio-RO. We live in QLD so I think at age 16 he is allowed to finish school but he has to show that he is 'earning or learning'. There is a process and I think the headmaster of the school sorts it out. We have a meeting at the school on Wednesday to find out the correct process. We don't feel he is well enough to take on anymore study like distance education or TAFE...just at this point in time. He is happy to get a part-time job and to try and get afternoon shifts as that is when he functions better. As parents, we are very concerned that he may become a bit socially isolated, more depressed and start hanging out in his bedroom lying on his bed and addicted to his phone. So we are trying to put things in place so that doesn't happen eg no screens like xbox until after 3:30pm. At the moment, he is home from school and we try and get him to exercise in the morning, help me with jobs through the day and then after 3pm he can do his own thing. I would be very interested to hear from others about alternative pathways etc and I thank you for your support. Reach out is a great name because I just felt this morning I had to 'reach out' to someone to talk about it. Thanks so much.
05-15-2017 06:13 PM
Our situation with my daughter is similar and she is also on anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs which make her drowsy.
It has taken me a while to get to this place but I now am of the opinion that she can read & write well, she is intelligent and her mental health is the most important thing.
If school is too hard for her I will support her in finding another pathway (she is in year 10).
If possible there are options to study through TAFE at high school and come out with an apprenticeship but that may even be too much and leaving school completely to study through TAFE would be my next preference for her.
Fortunately for us she has settled into the medication she is taking and has become less drowsy. It used to be obvious (like she was off her face) but is less so now, although she still has trouble concentrating.
Huge hugs to you as I feel your pain & please stay around and let us know how you're going and if I think of anything else that may help I'll share. You may find something useful in past posts of mine as our situations are similar.
05-16-2017 12:13 PM
That's wonderful @lucille in terms of him not having to go. I know that for many parents in NSW, when the legislation changed to 17 or a school certificate equivalent, it made it an impossible situation to navigate. How on earth do you force a 17-year-old to go to school?
I'm so impressed he's keen to work in the afternoons. Has he expressed an area of interest?
I completely understand the concerns you have around him being isolated. They are warranted. But can I make a small suggestion? One of the shifts parents of this generation are needing to make is their views on what constitutes a 'real' friendship or interaction. For us, talking to someone online is not the same as meeting them for coffee or dinner. But, for our children, being online with someone is almost identical to being with someone irl.
I'm not suggesting that you encourage or allow your son to stay inside 24 hours a day only chatting online but it might be helpful to chat with him about who he interacts with that leaves him feeling good about himself. If he has a tight circle of gaming or forum friends and when he talks with them he feels cared about and connected then he'll struggle if that's removed. If it helps, we have a number of members on the youth forum who have been there for years and are now one of the trained volunteer moderators and they describe their Reach Out crew as some of their best mates. And they may not even live in the same state.
How does he go with peers? Has he expressed feeling lonely?
05-16-2017 12:28 PM
Thanks Ngaio for your extra thoughts on our situation. I'm not sure how to describe our son and his relationship with his peers. He is not coping at school because there are 1300 boys there and it is just too much. One of the reasons he constantly tells us as to why he can't cope with school, is the other students. So he doesn't like large crowds and groups eg big parties (has never been to a big party). At times he likes to be alone with the company of his online mates either via xbox or social media. He skypes and snapchats friends all the time, mostly girls....and I know he enjoys these interactions as he is always laughing. He has a great group of mates on xbox (people who he has met in real life, like his cousin who lives in another city). He is not at school at the moment, so we have a routine where he helps out around the house, exercises, learns some housework type skills etc and then after 3pm he can play xbox. He uses his phone a lot so we just keep an eye on that as he does have the potential to let it take over his life. He really wants to work at Universal Store (a clothing store), or in a café type restaurant. We live in a rural area so some of his best school mates live within walking distance. They spend a lot of time at our house on the weekends and I'm really hoping that will continue if our son finishes up at school. I hope they will still come over at lot. I think our son will go to school sporting games on the weekend as we live only 200m from the school. Thank you for your thoughts and I'll definitely keep in touch as we try to navigate this tricky part of his life. Thanks so much for being so positive and helping to present different ideas such as its okay to have friends online if they make you happy and help you to feel good about yourself.
05-16-2017 01:08 PM
@lucille He sounds great!! He sounds like he's doing really well in the friendship department.
1300 boys is a lot! And understandably overwhelming. It's testimony to you and your husband that he is comfortable telling you guys exactly how he feels about the school and the students.
The fact that he feels connected and shares his experiences with others and laughs is everything you could ask. He sounds like he gets a great mix of face to face and online interactions.
From what I can tell, it really sounds like the school is the biggest burden your son is shouldering at the moment. Is that accurate?
05-16-2017 02:32 PM
Yes, you're right.....school is the biggest burden by far. On the school holidays and weekends, he is really great. In fact some of our family, who only see him on the holidays, can't understand what we are talking about in terms of his depression, anxiety and psychosis. They don't see it...because on the holidays he is quite well. It is only school days and usually about 3 weeks into the school term where he just completely collapses in a heap and his psychiatrist usually has to say 'no more school for the term' which is why he has only completed half of Year 9 and half of Year 10 and now struggling through Year 11. We have tried various medications, he's had quite a bit of psychological support with very well respected psychologists and still he is struggling. The only thing we haven't tried is removing him from the school environment which seems to cause him so much angst and stress. We have a meeting with the school in the morning. We say his psychologist last night and she wants us to ask the school if he can start at 11am each day, but I think our son has already mentally and emotionally 'moved on' and I'm not sure we are going to be able to get him to go back now. Thanks again for your support.
05-16-2017 03:18 PM
It sounds like all it really needs is for you, your husband and your son to agree together that school is not the place for him and you can start working on the next step together.
This might sound odd but have you considered having a celebration of sorts. Like a graduation for your son?
Most early school leavers (even the term suggests they are leaving at a bad time) make the decision that school is not for them amongst a lot of opposition and negativity. They are told that they're gambling or jeopardising their future, that they'll always be behind their peers in terms of earning capacity and therefore happiness and self-worth. They leave in a shroud of shame and will often not want to tell people that they have left. They certainly never get acknowledged for putting in the effort that they did and then making a really hard decision.
If you had a celebration for your son it would mean that not only are his massive efforts at attending being recognised but it's letting him know that you're proud of him for making a decision based on his mental well-being. It's also an acknowledgement that he still has many options open to him, both educational and vocational, but nothing is as important as him first surviving and then thriving. (sorry for the terrible rhyme)
It may be a bit much, but I'm sure your respective opinions mean a lot to your son and if he knows he's fully supported, it could greatly impact how he feels about his immediate and long term future.
05-16-2017 03:35 PM
Thanks again for your support. Yes we have considered a graduation type celebration for him....as much for me as for him.... He's our only child and I think it's important to say 'well done, you fought as hard as you could and you achieved great things'. I went to publicly let people know that we are not ashamed and that he didn't get expelled or suspended or anything like that....he's just decided that now is the right time to finish up. He's done 13.5 years of school and he has struggled for half of those years, the last two being incredibly difficult. So I totally agree with your suggestion and we definitely want to do something like that. Thanks so much.