My teenage son was on antidepressants and I had no idea

my son was on antidepressants
What do you do when your adolescent child does not confide in you, asks Kate Morris Credit: Clara Molden

Last year, when I was collecting laundry from my 17-year-old son’s bedroom, I found a paper bag and inside, a packet of pills, prescribed to him. Frantic googling revealed that they were antidepressants. The accompanying leaflet listed a series of alarming potential side effects, including the risk of suicidal thinking and behaviour in children, adolescents and young adults. I was devastated he hadn’t confided in me. He’d been quite low in the recent months, disappearing into his room and unwilling to communicate. My husband and I had suggested counselling, but he’d refused, citing his “right-on” but admirable principle of not wanting to accept private healthcare, when others didn’t have that option. On reflection we should have been more robust, and insistent, but teens can be obdurate.

He’d had a horrific accident at 16, when in a foolhardy moment he’d climbed a basketball pole, but fell five metres onto asphalt when he tried to dismount, breaking his wrist, hip and shoulder. There followed two weeks in hospital, two long operations, six weeks in a wheelchair and a further six weeks on crutches. He’d missed the first term of his new sixth form and had made the decision to leave school and repeat the year. There was no doubt he’d had a traumatic time.

When he was immobile, he’d relied on us for everything and our relationship, which had become quite distant, manoeuvred into the one we’d had when he was a young child. At first, we’d had to cut his food up, and wheel him to the park, just as we had when he was a toddler. Despite the terrible circumstances it was reassuring to be close to him again, a period that lasted until he was well enough to be independent.

Kate Morris knew very little about her son’s problems Credit: Clara Molden

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appKnowing an alarming amount of young men commit suicide, my fear and panic rapidly escalated after finding the antidepressants – were the pills inducing suicidal thoughts? Was he suicidal? I knew he’d been low, but was he hiding a more serious depressive episode? According to the Samaritans, the rate of suicidal deaths among under-25s increased by 23.7 per cent in 2018. In the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women.

We’d had a very close and loving relationship throughout his childhood, but like most teens he detached from us at about 15, and having been a charming, articulate boy he became, at best, periodically talkative, but more often than not monosyllabic and uncommunicative.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appWe suspected a few weeks before finding the pills he’d visited CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) because we’d looked up an unknown address on an Uber statement. However, when I telephoned I was told that they could not confirm either way, because they had to protect his confidentiality. He also refused to elucidate, when we asked him.

With righteous vigour I called again, after finding the pills, and a duty manager confirmed that my son was under their care, but no details could be provided. We would however, be informed if he was a danger to himself or others. That snippet was a great comfort.

I wondered what the exact policy on confidentiality is for children from 16-17 so spoke to Dr Johan Redelinghuys, CAMHS and development services clinical director, West London NHS. He said: “Our clinicians always encourage young people to involve their families in their treatment and care. However, we have to balance an adolescent’s right to privacy and confidentiality against safety and safeguarding needs. The principles that assist us with this are enshrined in the Children’s Act, Mental Capacity Act, Human Rights Act and Mental Health Law.”

We questioned our son about his state of mind, but he only revealed the bare minimum. It was only when I broke down in tears, that he confided he’d been given the pills by a psychiatrist, but was still waiting for therapy. This policy of prescribing a child antidepressants without parallel counselling disturbed and shocked me, but is down to endless waiting lists and shortages of overstretched staff.

He is far more forthcoming today and explains he was, “depressed from the emotional hangover of breaking myself. It felt like a generalised despair rather than about one thing. I refused to talk to you for all sorts of reasons, but mostly I didn’t want you getting involved, and was wary of your reaction, which had been overbearing in the past”. It was true, that at times, I had been quite invasive.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAfter calling CAMHS several times, I received a call from a man who had prescribed the pills, who was about to leave to complete his training. My son saw many professionals through the process – there was little consistency, and embarking on a course of mind-altering medication prescribed by a trainee highlighted how desperate the situation within the service was.

Still, my son considers that medication and eventual counselling were positive steps: “Taking the pills slightly uplifted my mood,” he says, “but more importantly, I liked the idea that I was doing something every day to remind myself to be in a better place, which was good for me. I am looking after myself and trying to be optimistic. My mood is better and my self-care too. I am able to distinguish between positive and negative thought patterns.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appNot knowing my son had referred himself for psychiatric help was fear provoking, but with hindsight, I respect him for taking the steps to do something. He did receive counselling and was only on the pills for a couple of months. For what it’s worth, I have learnt that it’s important to keep communicating with teens, but to try and curb too many invasive questions, which may make them shut down.

My son is 18 now and studying for his A-levels. He is a compassionate, funny, and sensitive boy – perhaps more so than he would have been without this experience – and, inspired by his journey, is committed to going into medical research. We do talk now and share a quirky sense of humour, but I keep a respectful distance and my policy these days is only to offer advice if I’m asked.