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Archive for March, 2010

Like a Tornado

March 27, 2010 by

It’s been four and half years since Amy was diagnosed and we’ve just experienced the best year since.  She’s been doing great at school, has many friends, is involved in extra curricular activities and we haven’t had any lengthy depressive episodes in a year.  Life, as we knew it before, is returning.  The only problem is, I really don’t remember what it was like before.

I’m noticing spring as if it was my first.  When she was ill, I don’t think I ever noticed the change of seasons.  Now, I am seeing the grass going from brown to green and anticipating leaves on the trees.  I notice changes in the clouds again.  I feel the cold crisp air of the morning gradually warm to a more comfortable temperature by noon.  It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since I last noticed these things.

I’ve lived in the Midwest all of my life and the most destructive source I know is a tornado.  Living with a depressed child is a lot like dodging an errant tornado.  You’re never quite sure which way it will jump.  You just see the swirling chaos and try to stay a step away from the vortex.  As it moves, it destroys everything you know and just spews it randomly around you.

It feels now as if the tornado has passed and I’m going back trying to pick up the pieces that remain.  I was triumphant, though, because we all survived and at least we are all here to pick up the pieces together.

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I’ve talked with many parents of teens with depression and a few are afraid of putting their children on medication.  They fear unknown long term side effects.  It is a difficult choice but Hank and I put it in black or white terms – either she gets the meds or she is successful in a suicide attempt.  That made the choice pretty easy in our case.

It’s not to say that we didn’t have problems with Amy’s meds.   During a six month period where we were trying to find the right combination and dosages, there were some nasty side effects.  And, even with the right meds for her mood, there are also some less desirable, but manageable, side effects.

She was on one anti-psychotic that made her like a zombie.  I swear she did everything but drool in the corner.  Another gave her what we came to find out was called dystonia.  The symptoms looked like a stroke.  She had weakness on her left side and her face was drooping.  I remember rushing her to the emergency room with her sister, all the way thinking my 13 year old was having a stroke.  We were very lucky as some benadryl took care of the problem (an allergic reaction to the med).

I wouldn’t want to change our decision.  I am hopeful as her psychiatrist is going to try to wean her off the anti-psychotic in May.  This is the worst med for her physically as it has caused a great weight gain and a higher than normal cholesterol and triglyceride level.  Maybe when she’s off of it, she’ll get back to a healthier weight.  Even if we’re unable to take her off of it, she’s still here every day for me to love.

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Treatment facilities have different approaches in their treatment of child and adolescent psych patients.  Of course, upon Amy’s first admission, we had no clue about this.  This was one of the many first mistakes we made during her first year of treatment

The treatment facility we first sent Amy for treatment had the reputation for being the best so that’s where we went.  We were frantic – we just wanted to get her the best help.  She had attempted suicide and was deeply depressed.   We were also brand new to psychiatric treatment.

This treatment facility was very rigid in their approach.  Parents were only allowed to visit every other day for just one hour.   They told us we had to sign a blanket consent/treatment order allowing them to treat her any way they deemed fit – including electroshock.  Hank and I both got the feeling that we were suspected as being the source of Amy’s problems.

We did question their methods.  Their responses were condescending, as if we were questioning their experience and training. At the time, we had grave reservations about their style of treatment but we assumed that this was just the way psychiatric patients were treated and we should comply in order get her help.

Amy said that they were very strict in their discipline, too.  She later told us that she just did whatever they instructed and gave the appearance of getting better just to get released quickly.  She was released after a week and then went into the day program, which she participated in for another couple of months.

In retrospect, that treatment facility was probably very effective for adolescents who had a history of acting out.  During family group therapy, we learned that was the case with the other kids there.  It was, however, completely inappropriate for a scared, depressed 12 year old.

A year later, when Amy needed to be hospitalized again, we were more savvy.  We decided to shop around for her treatment facility treatment.  There were two other treatment facilities in our area that provided treatment and we decided to check them out.  We found a completely different program from the first.

We interviewed the program manager about their facility and treatment methodology.  We found that it was a better fit for Amy.  They were more nurturing in their approach.  They recognized that any treatment facility setting was stressful and the kids were already stressed before they were admitted.  They didn’t require a blanket consent form – we would have to consent to any treatment that was a deviation from what she was currently receiving, including any change in medication or dosage.  He stated that parents can be a contributing force in the child’s problems but it wasn’t just assumed that they were.  Visiting hours for parents were for two hours every day with the hours being accommodating to working parents. The staff was caring and treated the children as individuals.  The kids in the ward seemed calm.  I observed a nurse give a kid a hug and heard staff encouraging the kids.

Parents need to understand that each treatment facility is different and you need to do some comparative shopping to find the right fit.  Although you’re confused, trust your gut.  If we had, we never would have admitted Amy to that first treatment facility.

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March 7, 2010 by

A Yale School of Medicine researcher is studying to see the causal effect of bullying and suicide attempts in children.  As this is what lead to Amy’s depression, I find this fascinating.

I’ve long suspected that this occurs more frequently than not.  The Columbine shooters singled out victims who were considered popular by high school standards.   Many other students who have carried out violent attacks also expressed similar feelings.

Here’s a link to the press release on the studies:

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Remember when your child was a toddler and you put the covers on the outlets to keep them safe? Although it might not seem like it, suicide proofing your home is much the same. You’re keeping them safe. I know this seems very surreal but you need to suspend reality during this. The world as most know it is no longer the one you’re concerned with. You are now focused on keeping your child alive and that is much more important.

You have to look through the house and remove anything that could be used as a suicide attempt. We first started with the bathroom. All medications, both prescription and over the counter, need to be removed. Check the bathroom for any other sharp items, like scissors.

We had no guns in our home but obviously, those should be removed immediately.

In the kitchen, there are many possibilities. Knives are obvious but we also removed the shish kebob skewers, kitchen shears, scissors, steak knives, and meat thermometer. You need to be thorough and look in each utensil drawer.
Other rooms generally don’t have sharp items but you need to look for anything that could be used for strangulation. For us, this was scarves, belts, curtain tie backs, purses with straps, neckties and jewelry.  Don’t forget to check for belts on robes and other clothing, too, and remove them.

We found it helpful to put all of these things in tackle boxes with padlocks. I kept my scarves, belts and purses in the trunk of my car where I could get them as I needed.

You become pretty adept at this while you go through your house and develop methods of storage that work for your family.

Obviously, you need to make sure your suicidal child is never left alone.  We extended this to include the bathroom.  We had Amy keep all doors open when she was in a room.  At night, Hank and I took turns sleeping next to Amy’s bed at night. That way, she couldn’t get out of bed without us knowing it.

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