A teen girl lying on her bed, clutching a pillow


My Teen Is In A Mental Health Crisis And We’re Still Waiting For Help

Jan 28, 2020

An episode looks something like this:

My daughter is screaming. She yells out, “I am afraid I’m going to hurt one of you. I have been asking for help for months and I don’t get it. I need services. I need help. This is not working. I want to live somewhere else now. I am leaving.”

It's usually around 11 p.m. and I'm in my pyjamas. I usually have no idea what the trigger is exactly, but it could be something as simple as being asked to get ready for bed because it's late.

Living Through A Crisis

For months, our family has been in crisis. These explosive events happen roughly every three weeks and sometimes more frequently. One year ago, when she disclosed suicidal thoughts to a camp counsellor, I advocated loudly for service and still we waited.

Intake occurred in early November, as I recall, and then we were in an office doing therapy in early February. We did this for the number of hours permitted by OHIP (Ontario’s Health Insurance Plan) and then we were discharged.

"Her progress sounded like this: 'I don’t know why I am angry all the time. I want to not be angry all the time.'"

While I liked that therapist, he was often charmed by my daughter who never once let him past the surface. When I reached out originally, I advised a local public mental health care organization for youth that she refused to let herself feel sad, frustrated or even elated. Everything came out as anger. But she didn’t once explode in his office, and at home the urgency trailed off. So, we were discharged after eight sessions. Not cured, of course. But mostly OK — for now.

Then this summer, she returned from summer camp upset, apologetic and asking for support in the form of anger therapy. Her progress sounded like this: “I don’t know why I am angry all the time. I want to not be angry all the time.”

Recognizing there’s an issue at this age and stage is vital. So, I started the hunt for mental health care for a teenager again. First, we went to her pediatric psychiatrist. He listed off a host of potential mental health issues and blurted: “She sure is angry.”

If you know a family going through a crisis and are wanting to help, find five ways to look after them here.

When we returned to him, she was calm and engaging for a one-hour period in his office. "No cause to worry," he said — and then she exploded two weeks later.

I called him at 9:30 p.m. that night and let him listen to the episode. Then I texted a friend and left home (which is also my office) for a nearby coffee shop.

My husband was home for summer vacation, and stayed behind. My daughter continued hollering awful things, taking our car keys and hiding them, blocking doors and kicking furniture until it was damaged.

"On nights like these, when she cannot stop this explosive cycle, I fall asleep crying quietly."

It's episodes like these that encourage me to wake up early the day after and muster the strength to call all of the local mental health agencies — again. This persistence is how I lined up a local youth group that is relatively new and meets once a month for two hours. It’s not therapy, but it is a group with kids her age with similar emotional regulation issues. When we got in, I celebrated, because it is a tiny thread of a start in a space where there is nothing.

If I had large amounts of disposable income, I could shift this process and make it a bit faster by hiring someone private. I am a self-employed writer and social media consultant with Crohn’s Disease and chronic pain. Recently our private health care plan stopped covering some of my daily prescriptions. Right now, we are working our hardest to keep the lights on and the furnace lit while accumulating hundreds of dollars of medical expenses a month.

On nights like these, when she cannot stop this explosive cycle, I fall asleep crying quietly. If one of the kids hears me, they are potentially triggered all over again and either the rage escalates or the anxiety does, and this cycle continues for hours. It's impossible to do this all night. There’s no doubt in my mind that two or maybe even three of the people in our home are depressed, trying not to drown while seeking support for this child.

What We Do While Waiting

Every single organization in town wants teens to be engaged and committed to counselling. It’s not enough to get their foot in the door after months of waiting (which is in itself often almost impossible). Even when I do get someone on the phone, it's not always progress. I was told by a local youth mental health agency that because my daughter seems so angry and is currently at school, they can’t move the process forward.

"'I will smash all the china. You people are horrible. You do nothing to help.'"

So, on an afternoon when my daughter was home and calm, I called that same youth mental health agency again. My daughter agreed to accept help, and so we waited some more. Three to four months is the average for this particular support. I am skilled at this after years of advocating for myself, my kids and even members of an Ontario-based patient advocacy group I helped to manage online.

We're still waiting.

The doctor has said we can call 911 and hope that the ambulance can get her to the hospital and get her help, but he’s not a fan of that and says it rarely works.

Today, she rages on, brain on fire, pacing, agitated, yelling profanity and more. “I will smash all the china. You people are horrible. You do nothing to help.”

In a soft voice, I try to remind her about the youth group we have started and the waitlists. Someone from one of the agencies is supposed to call her soon, I say. We have two choices at this moment: to go to bed and keep looking for services again tomorrow or throw coats on and drive her to children’s emergency room.

My husband says: “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

I know other parents who are going through something similar, so I've been building a network. During episodes, I might text a friend who has a 12-year-old daughter with similar rages and mental health diagnoses — "Hey are you still up?" She will usually reply, yes, but follow up with what's going on at home: "Jane is so anxious she's been up all night vomiting." 

I give her my love and support, and we use this moment of connection to commisserate — but it can't always go further than that, when we're both struggling. 

This mom created a first aid kit for her family's mental health. Read how she put one together here.

In the heat of a break, my daughter collapses, exhausted. She'll climb into my bed for a moment say things like, “I should sleep on the floor. I don’t deserve a bed.”

But we don't believe that, obviously. And my husband will assuredly console her, telling our daughter, “Yes, you do. You deserve a bed.” And this is after calmly enduring hours of profanity and threats. In a nearby room, when the yelling and kicking stops, our other daughter finally gets to sleep.

The morning after — and there are many mornings after — I will call around to all the agencies, doctors and hotlines again.

With all the calls and reminders, I often forget I have a dentist’s appointment of my own, or a prescription to phone in. I also struggle to get any business done from home. It's not unusual for someone to call about an overdue bill and leave a message. 

"I have two choices every morning — stay in bed and give up, or wake up fighting."

Even with everything going on, I don't forget to text, “I love you. *heart emoji*” to my husband. But I never stop reaching out, calling agencies and texting other special needs parents asking where and how they found help.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, an estimated 1.2 million Canadian children are affected by mental illness. Wait times for services across the country, while not tracked consistently for mental health, can take 18 months or more.

So, what do we do while waiting? I am admittedly not great at waiting. Recently, during a low point at school, my daughter asked me why I keep trying, because — as she says — what's the point?

“It’s what I do,” I told her. I have two choices every morning — stay in bed and give up, or wake up fighting.

And that's why I remind myself to take it one day at a time and connect with other special needs parents, because that is how I'll learn the precise language to unlock the right door. I make sure to drag my exhausted body out the door to work out five times a week, take my own medicines and multi-vitamins and fortify myself for the constant battle, because that's how I'll be strong to help my kids. 

Finally, I continue to check in over and over to see if the waitlist has shortened and remind someone — anyone — that we are still here waiting.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.

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