Comment: Conspiracy of silence hindering mental health treatment

Georgina Wakefield blasts the conspiracy of silence that accompanied her son’s mental health treatment

When the doctor said “we’ll put him on a course of injections” it was sweet music to my grateful ears. This was after 15 months of sheer hell, worrying about our younger son, Christian.

At the time we believed that the son we knew and missed so much would be back with us within a few weeks. But the shock of the effects of the anti-psychotic medication was every bit as bad as when Christian began to lose his mind at 16. Literally overnight, he was transformed from an angry, hostile and disordered young man into a zombie with lead boots on his feet.

He stayed in bed for about 16 hours a day. My husband, Paul, would arrive home from work at 6pm and most of the time Christian would have just got up, only to be ready for bed again at 9pm. He was submissive, quiet and unresponsive. When I tried to get him up he’d become angry and tell me to leave him alone. Sleeping his life away was the easiest option. I became a witness to my son’s life ebbing away day by day, week by week, month by month and eventually year by year. When he was 17 I thought he’d be better when he got to 18.

My sons were born three years and one day apart. Stephen was 21 and the following day Christian was 18 so we decided to have a joint party. It consisted mainly of Stephen’s friends as Christian’s had fallen by the wayside soon after he became ill – young people do not take well to mental illness. During the party I remember looking at him and thinking “when he’s 21 things will be very different”.

Now 32, his dark hair is turning grey, he lives independently and holds down a part-time job. To say that recovery is slow is an understatement. A psychiatrist once told me to imagine that I had a flower bulb in the palm of my hand and then fast-forward time. In five years it would be much bigger but, because the growth is so slow, I wouldn’t have perceived it. It is the same with mental illness: there is growth but we never see it.

I have been on both sides of the fence, having suffered from manic depression myself for many years and then as a mental health carer. I’m often asked by mental health professionals what needs to change. It’s a loaded question, to say the least, and I don’t intend to bore you with the usual stuff about lack of resources and so on. I will concentrate on what I think would really help carers and that is to be included and informed about what is going on.

It was like I was met with a conspiracy of silence when Christian became ill. It sometimes feels that professionals are almost embarrassed to talk to carers. But, in the situation I have described here, we should have been warned about the effects of the medication to prevent the feelings of shock and bewilderment. There is nothing to be gained from a conspiracy of silence but everything to be gained from working together as partners in care.

Georgina Wakefield is a carer for her son who has schizophrenia

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