It’s like being stuck in a hamster wheel going around and around and never getting anywhere. The battle to help our loved ones (or even ourselves) with mental health issues can be ongoing, never-ending and seemingly exhaustive.
A short while ago I wrote about taking a more natural approach to anxiety and ADD. I have had great success with some of those things with my oldest daughter, and not such great luck with others. The floor fell out from under us (so to speak) a few weeks ago when she had to be admitted to the hospital. Things had gotten overwhelming for her and her lack of effective coping skills proved to be too much.
As she got shuffled around from hospital to hospital, we encountered such tremendous people. Our health care workers are exemplary, and the youth mental health crisis workers we met were exceptional. Having been previously diagnosed (and medicated for) anxiety and most recently adolescent-onset-attention-deficit disorder, both she and I assumed that her medications likely needed ‘adjusting’ or corrected to help her with this new ‘low’ she was experiencing.
After being admitted and spending 3 days with a myriad of different social workers, psychiatrists, nurses and counsellors at one of the best youth mental health facilities in Canada, I was called in to meet with the doctors that had been working so closely with her. I almost fell out of my chair when at the end of that meeting they told me that they felt very strongly that my daughter did not present with ADD and and she did not have an anxiety ‘disorder’ and felt it was best for her to come off of all of her medications for a few weeks and evaluate how she felt.
I left the meeting both ecstatic that they felt she was such a strong and intelligent, well mannered teen that she would do well with cognitive behaviour therapy and yet mortified. Had I jumped to quickly in having her put on medications? Did I make her issues worse by not insisting we try a fully holistic approach before trying pharmaceuticals? I had felt so confident that we had tried the natural approaches first, before deciding to take that next step to medications. Looking back, when those solutions did not entirely fix the problems, I think we both felt such a sense of relief when doctors gave what she was feeling ‘names’ and offered medications to help her feel better.
Mental health disorders are sneaky and underhanded. They are not an illness that anyone can see, so therefore they are not necessarily viewed as such. As an interesting side note, every day, 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to psychiatric problems. The doctors kept reassuring us that if she had a heart condition and medications were the best treatment, no one would think twice in that situation. Mental health issues work the same way. Often medications are introduced to see if they help the condition. And sometimes, despite massive advances in this area over the last decade, medications are not the answer.
Leaving the hospital with her that day, I knew she was scared and nervous about starting on a path of withdrawal symptoms and hoping that being off of the medications wouldn’t make her feel worse. I promised her it would be okay and that things could only (hopefully) get better. Two weeks later she is medication free, and just got her report card which proudly proclaimed her to be a straight A, honour-roll student. Her withdrawal symptoms are almost completely gone and this week she begins a 3 month out-patient program working one-on-one with a specialized clinician that will give her and practice with her, new tools and skills to help her cope and manage her periods of low-mood and anxiety.
We realize that we may have not yet found the final solution and that she may deal with these issues for the rest of her life, but we are on a new, medication-free path of hope and learning. To be continued.