There really is no way to dress this up. This is a hard story to tell, to read, to live through.
It’s a story that opened my eyes and humbled me all at the same time.
But it’s a story I’d like to pass on. I’ve kept folk anonymous given the circumstances.
I was staying in a campsite and word had got round that I was, well, doing what I’m doing.
A group of kids who’d been merrily marauding about the place had finally decided it was time to corner me and drag the story out of me.
I like an audience, and they were great fun, firing all kinds of youthful questions at me.
I’d been drawn to a young guy – 11 or 12 – keen eyed, a shock of blonde curly hair – 2 hearing aids, full of questions and listening keenly.
I had to be actively mindful of the others in the gang – I could have chatted to him all day.
Later, his dad wandered over – a bit to hear about what I was up to – and a bit to share his…their story.
When his son was about 6 months old he contracted meningitis and septicaemia.., they thought they’d lost him but he rallied and pulled through.
Unfortunately his hearing had been profoundly effected – which meant he’s had to wear his hearing aids since then.
When his son was about 8 years old, Dad wandered in on him in the kitchen to find him holding a sharp knife against his wrist.
All kinds of thoughts tsunami’d through his mind – what’s wrong? What have we done wrong? Is this attention seeking? Is this something to do with his hearing? among them.
They took him to his GP.
The GP referred him…them quickly onto the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service – CAMHS.
Dad felt that in no time at all they were sitting in front of a child psychiatrist talking…
His 8 year old son – his beautiful boy – was telling the doctor that he wanted to die.
The question that stood out for him was this –
‘What stopped you from doing it?’
‘Nothing,’ was the bland reply.
His Dad told me how shocked he’d felt at this young boy’s deadpan expression.
In later discussions with CAMHS he was told they nearly took his son into hospital there and then for treatment.
Over the past few years he and his wife have been delighted at their son’s improvement – a combination of medication and therapy has helped them all to move forward.
Dad tells me how this has been a sharp learning curve for him – it’s a world they’d never expected to find themselves in – he’s read as much as he can around the subject of childhood mental health.
There appears to be a bit of a blur between self harming and suicidal behaviour with his son – he was prone to both.
They approached the school to discuss the issues – in an attempt to ensure their boy’s safety – they asked that he was monitored more than his classmates with sharp instruments around the class.
Dad felt he was met with disbelief and ambivalence from the teaching staff who felt his son was attention seeking. They had to visit school a number of times to reiterate the risk of him coming home with with drawing pins in his pockets.
But that, he says, was then.
The relationship with the school has improved, although he doesn’t feel they fully understood.
Now he can give his son a row for being naughty without fear of causing him to go into a psychological decline.
He seems to appreciate that he’s loved even when he’s sitting on the naughty step.
Stuff that so many parents take for granted…
Given all the reports on social media on the internet, they’ve been reluctant to give him access to it until he’s at least 40.
That said, he uses Instagram.
One night, dad told him that was enough for the evening, and that it was time for bed. His boy was unusually determined to keep using his little bit of social media – instead of wading in he had a chat with his wife and a friend – both had been monitoring recent developments on Instagram.
Their son had told his social media world that he hated his hearing aids.
Instead of the bullying that we’ve been told to expect from the world of the interweb, their son was met love and kindness – friends told him he was fabulous, great, wonderful, that he looked great and that they could hardly notice his hearing aids…
It’s hard to get this across – but they way the dad told me about his son’s virtual (all real) friends, well, it put the hairs up on the back of my neck and tears to both our eyes.
They know they’re not out of the woods yet. He still sees a psychiatrist; when he feels low he’s still inclined to isolate himself and, because of his hearing; he can feel paranoid in groups, especially if people are laughing at something he hasn’t heard.
With time though, they all feel they have learned a lot and are managing the situation with support.
It’s always been a bit of a quandary to me as to what age folk should be before we start talking to them about mental health.
So I asked this Dad, who’d clearly become a bit of an expert in this, thankfully, small field.
He thinks 8 years old would be a pretty good starting point.
How we do that, I’m not terribly sure.
It was so hard to feel the pain of this particular journey – but to hear and see his relief as the story unfolded was an absolute pleasure.
I so wanted to hug him – but we did that manly handshake thing instead.
He thanked me for what I was doing. I was really taken off guard with this – especially after all they’d been through and all they’d done.
Without missing a beat, he thrust £20 into my hand, to help me on my way.
I’m not sure if there’s much I can add…
Walk a mile