This post deals with suicide and might be triggering for some readers.
"My son died last lockdown. I have his phone. His last messages were trying to reach people and see people. Our young people are vulnerable. Look out for them. Especially young people with mental health illnesses and [that] use drugs."
When Sydney went into lockdown recently, these were the heart wrenching words of warning from a mother on Twitter.
I felt sick as I read the tweet.
As the parent of a child who struggles with his mental health, losing him is a fear we live with daily - especially when restrictions crank up the pressure.
Since our son was a teenager, we have experienced this emotional rollercoaster, which never gets easier.
Diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and generalised anxiety disorder, and dependent on self-medication, he is sadly in a mental healthcare system that lacks adequate funding, and often, only jumps into action when it’s too late.
Sometimes, I think only his fighting spirit, medication, and our vigilance (he would call it intrusion) have kept our son alive and capable of pursuing an independent life for himself in the city.
However, each time lockdown strikes, the lack of structure to his days, the absence of socialisation, and his limited financial resources risk throwing him into a spiral of fear, negativity, and ultimately, depression.
During these strained periods, keeping the communication channels open is even more imperative - but that doesn’t guarantee he will reciprocate.
Countless times, when he has gone silent, we’ve raced to his unit in a state of panic, the obvious terror at the back of our minds that this is it.
A friend of mine is in a similar situation. After a bad experience with medication some years ago, her daughter refuses to seek treatment. Hence, my friend experiences the same cycle each time her daughter experiences psychosis: her neighbours call out the police, who cart her off to a psych ward for assessment, from where she is usually released within a matter of days.
This scenario has played out repeatedly over the past several years, but without her daughter’s permission, she is powerless to secure her the help she needs.
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Understandably, emotional rollercoasters like these take a toll on our own mental health.
Tabitha, whose son struggles with similar difficulties says: "The COVID lockdown was hard for us as a family -especially for my son. He was discharged from an inpatient program within a month of everything shutting down, and it was a challenge for him to leave one locked-down environment for another. We were unable to schedule any kind of face-to-face therapy sessions for him, and he was uncomfortable with virtual sessions. He was too frustrated to deal with the extra hoops required during the pandemic and ended up coming off his meds and dropping out of therapy.