Dealing with depression

When his teenage son started showing signs of depression, Edward didn't know where to get help. His son's mental health deteriorated and he was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his early twenties. Here Edward tells his story.

"Paul was about 12 or 13 when the problems started. He fell behind at school and his teachers warned me of behavioural issues: he was distracting others, staring out the window and not paying attention in class. At home he became increasingly non-communicative, even though he'd always been a cheerful, friendly little boy.

Driven by emotion

The teachers complained at parent-teacher meetings and insinuated that there might be something going on at home. Unfortunately it was an era when people didn't know much about depression.

I had no idea what to do about Paul's behaviour. If a niece or someone outside the family had similar problems, I might have been more helpful but I was driven by emotion, rather than reason.

When it's your own child facing problems you have an urgent parent attachment that makes it more difficult to face the situation with a clear head.

Struggling to communicate

I have suffered with depression in the past so I could see what was happening to Paul, but for some reason couldn't put it into words.

There is a history of mental illness in the family – my mother was schizophrenic and suffered from depression – and I think my experience with depression made me more defensive. I knew what it could lead to and I didn't know how to solve Paul's problems. Also, at the time, there was such a stigma attached to the condition.

I wish there'd been more support at school; we simply couldn't afford the private support. I was stuck with the problem of my son becoming a statistic and felt utterly powerless.

I realise now that I should have gone to my GP but I was embarrassed to talk about my private family problems. I definitely wouldn't behave like that now. I'm older, more experienced but also today there's a much better understanding of mental health.

Facing the problem

In the end I took Paul to a private tutor, once a week, to help him with his work. After just a few weeks his morale started to improve. The tutor explained Paul had learning difficulties and was able to address them in a non-judgemental way. Most of all, I think she decreased his feelings of isolation.

But after six months Paul felt that she'd helped him enough and chose to stop seeing her. The benefits of the tutoring lasted a couple of months but then Paul's behaviour started to deteriorate again.

Powerless to help

Paul left school at 16 after being offered a job at a printing works, where he'd been doing summer work experience. He made friends with a guy who did drugs and started using cannabis. I think the idea of being able to manipulate his feelings made him feel less depressed.

I remember the time Paul acquired a car and began to repair it towards MOT standards. But he also test-drove a friend's car clandestinely, in eagerness to drive "for real”. When I confronted him about the dangers of driving illegally, he replied, "Jesus will protect me".

I was very, very worried for Paul's safety, his legal position and the safety of others. I felt terrible guilt for not reporting him to the police. And I felt even more guilt that I had failed miserably as a parent, especially as teaching adults at college was (and had been for a decade) my job.

New diagnosis

Now I realise that manic-depressive behaviour is characterised by delusions and stubborn obfuscation, evasion and even aggression when these are confronted.

In his twenties Paul was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on medication. He mixed it with drugs and alcohol – what chance did it have of working?

We weren't fully aware of what was going on because Paul was over 18 and social workers wouldn't disclose the information to us. He was admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment several times. I felt worried and powerless. Eventually I was signed off work with depression and forced to retire.

Raising awareness

Paul died in a car accident when he was 29. I'm telling my story now in the hope it might help another parent; I'm sure Paul would feel the same way. I'm determined to bring forward the message and raise awareness about depression.

My advice to other parents is; don't be afraid. Get the information and educate yourself about the issue so you can be proactive and deal with it. Parents are under the misapprehension that depression is caused by something they've done but they shouldn't blame themselves.

If you've got concerns about the stigma, think again. Living in denial of the problem prevents your child from getting the treatment they need."