teens

While cleaning her son's room days before his 13th birthday, Alex found a suicide note.

Warning: this post deals with themes related to mental health and suicide and may be triggering for some readers. Please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 if you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness.

It was two days before her son’s 13th birthday in March last year that Alex Booth’s life changed forever.

The mother of three from North Haven in Adelaide had gone into her son Sam’s room to clean it when he was at school, when she noticed a piece of paper that was not intended for her to see.

The difference between sadness and depression. Post continues after video. 

“Sam had drawn images of coffin, and one of himself with a gun drawn to his head saying the words ‘I want to die’,” Alex told Mamamia. “I just felt numb, and I was crying. It was horrible.”

Alex admitted she knew Sam had been struggling at school due to the start of Year 8, but said she was unprepared for being confronted with exactly how bad her son was feeling on the inside.

“He was withdrawn, but I thought it was just trouble settling into high school.”

Not sure what to do after finding the note, Alex called a friend who is mental health nurse. That friend told a psychiatrist colleague about the note, and the action plan was clear: Alex needed to seek help for Sam immediately.

One of the first thing Alex did was speak to the school and alert them to the risk, asking them to monitor Sam’s behaviour.

Then, after trying some avenues in the public health system with no luck, Alex eventually called Headspace, a mental health organisation for young people and those who support them.

Once she’d secured an appointment, she told Sam she’d seen his note.

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"Once she’d secured an appointment, she revealed to Sam she’d seen his note." Image: Supplied.
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“When I told Sam, he was like, ‘don’t worry about it, Mum’,” Alex said.

But of course, that was very little reassurance.

“It didn’t matter what he said to me, he’d obviously thought of ways out, so I insisted on the visit to Headspace.”

Sam reluctantly attended with his mother; but half way through a strained and mostly silent session, Sam began to open-up.

“He admitted he was being bullied at school. The day he made the note, he’d been hiding under his desk in class, and another student just started kicking him."

The admission was a breakthrough; but although they now knew what was happening and were getting help, things escalated soon after.

“There was an incident where Sam just grabbed a kitchen knife and threatened to stab himself."

“He’d had another terrible day at school and couldn’t cope. I just got him in the car and drove him straight to the hospital. But they couldn’t help more. They said we were already doing what we were supposed to, through Headspace.”

Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss a simple mental health mantra we need to be teaching our kids. Post continues after audio.

Despite knowing she was doing everything she could to help her son, a very scared and worried Alex strongly felt something else wasn’t right.

Finally, months later, in August last year, Sam was diagnosed with autism; which a relieved Alex was grateful for, as they could now make a plan for progress and support at school.

“We finally got funding through the NDIS, and the school have been great in understanding what Sam now needs,” Alex said.

Soon after, Alex noticed a family activity day organised by mental health organisation Beyond Blue, which she thought Sam would love.

“It was a four by four driving day in the sand dunes. Sam had an absolute blast, and by the end of the day, he was pumped to go again soon,” Alex said.

“The activity made such an improvement to his mental health immediately. It was great to see him so excited.”

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"It was great to see him so excited." Image: Supplied.

The event would prove to be another turning point for Sam, who had already started to feel better after regular sessions with Headspace.

Alex thanked Beyond Blue on their Facebook page for organising the day – and to her surprise, John Maguire from the organisation reached out to ask if the family would share their story to help others.

They immediately agreed.

And so last Friday, Alex and Sam bravely did just that on Mix 102.3 Jodie and Soda’s radio program.

“It was a great experience for us, knowing we could help others,” Alex said.

“I really want the message to get out to parents that it’s so important to communicate with their children. Ask them how their day was.

“Be a parent, but also a friend.”

But Alex also warned it’s taken a lot of work to ensure Sam was back on track.

“With continued regular appointments with Headspace, and the right support at school, Alex is in a very different place than he was a year ago,” she said.

“He had rough day yesterday, but these days, he definitely has more good days than bad.”

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local Headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. Kid's Helpline is also available on 1800 551 800.

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