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Kids in crisis

Families with children struggling with mental illness face many obstacles as they seek proper treatment

Ottawa Sun, By NELLY ELAYOUBI, January 9, 2005

Jeff Kettle asks his mom how long she can visit. She's there with his dad and she tells Jeff she can stay until 8:15 p.m.

Jeff sleeps in a small room, with a single bed. He has his stuffed toy, the Grinch, tucked behind the mattress.

Jeff sneaks a kiss on his mom's cheek. With his dad, he knocks knuckles, flashing the peace sign with his fingers.

Atop a table pushed against the wall, Jeff has a row of Nintendo video games, his favourite is Spiderman. His electric toothbrush is a Spiderman one and beside it rests a stick of toothpaste.

Jeff grabs a mini bubble gum machine from this table and offers his dad some bubble gum. His father takes a blue one and tucks it away for later.

He shows off his MP3 player and lists some of his favourite groups -- Kittie, Pearl Jam and Prozac are just a few.

Jeff's parent's, Dave and Karen Kettle, visit Jeff in his room every weekend and talk to him daily.

Jeff has schizophrenia and has been a patient at the Royal Ottawa Hospital for two years.

At age 20, he functions at the level of a 10-year-old.

Jeff was always a little bit different, his parents say. At age four, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). He was prescribed Ritalin until he was 15.

There were always signs of behavioural problems, but everyone thought it was connected to the ADHD and OCD.

In September of 1999 Jeff was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome on the autistic spectrum.

Little did his parents know, a few months later, the Jeff they knew would be lost forever.

"He just changed as I watched him. He didn't talk like Jeff, he didn't walk like Jeff, he didn't behave like Jeff," Karen says.

He came downstairs that morning, announcing he wanted to start smoking. Karen told him no, it wasn't how things were done in their household.

Jeff suffered his first psychotic episode and stayed that way for months. He slashed the walls with an electric hedge clipper and later described seeing Satan on the walls.

"He felt that his family was in danger and that he was in danger. He was very paranoid and he felt he had to protect all of us," Karen says.

HEARING VOICES

He shattered all the china in a cabinet and grabbed one of the collector beer bottles. He smashed his forehead to "try to make it stop."

Jeff was hearing voices. He doesn't remember a time in his life when he didn't hear those voices.

With Dave at work, Karen quickly dialled 911.

It took five police officers to restrain Jeff and he was taken to CHEO in handcuffs and shackles. It was a nightmare the Kettles never imagined they'd live.

"You know when you look into a person's eyes, you can see their soul, or their personality or being. When you look in the eyes of a person who is psychotic, it's like there's nothing there. It's like it's a wall," Karen says.

It was that day the family embarked on a rollercoaster ride they still often find themselves caught on. Jeff endured years of being shuffled through a system that offered no real support for the severity of his condition.

He moved to the Roberts/Smart Centre, a children's mental health treatment centre, only to be moved back to CHEO's emergency department, back to the centre, then to a therapeutic group home. He got into trouble with the law and was charged with assault.

His condition deteriorated rapidly and he needed residential treatment. It cost $200-$500 a day and his parents couldn't afford it. They had one choice -- give up their parental rights and turn him over to the Children's Aid Society.

They made that decision just before Jeff turned 16.

"Many, many, many people have had to do this and it should never happen," Karen says.

Jeff remained at Roberts/Smart for the next 18 months, until he was admitted to the Royal Ottawa Hospital under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Review Board.

"I've learned when you go through struggles, you take it one day at a time because to look too far down the pike is often very frightening," Dave says.

"Children such as Jeffrey, with his type of challenges, become basically the throwaway kids of society. My son ... without proper treatment will be dead or on skid row."

Karen is vice-president of Parents for Children's Mental Health, a non-profit provincial advocacy group.

"I believe very strongly that community-based children's mental health treatment works and I know it saved my child's life," Karen says.

It's a group started by Marian Archibald, who watched her daughter struggle with mental illness.

Sitting in her living room, with her daughter's two cats lazing around, Marian speaks of her family's journey with a daughter who suffered from mental illness while growing up.

From an incorrect diagnosis, to medications that almost destroyed her daughter, it's a story riddled with challenges and obstacles in finding the proper care.

By the time Martha was 13 months old, her parents knew something wasn't quite right. She was always sad, had a short attention span and needed little sleep.

When she was four, her parents took her to a family doctor who referred her to a pediatrician and children's psychologist.

She became isolated by her peers for being "different." The Read More ..are she became of this, the Read More .. depressed she became.

"She was convinced she was stupid because other kids could follow the directions the teacher gave and she couldn't always follow them," Marian says.

By age nine, she was also suicidal.

A year earlier, doctors described Martha as a "bright and manipulative child." They said the Archibalds needed to step up their parenting skills, even though their son appeared okay.

DEPRESSION WORSENED

The doctors were wrong. The Archibalds weren't bad parents and Martha wasn't a manipulative child.

She was getting worse. Her overreactions became Read More ..tense, her depression spilled over days. She banged her head against the wall, the floor, locking herself in a closet and crying for hours.

With broken glass, Martha cut herself. She was suicidal and calm about it, telling her parents she no longer wanted to live.

"We felt that we had no hope and we didn't know what to do," Marian says.

Then Martha was diagnosed with ADHD -- a diagnosis only partially right.

"We felt like this great weight had been lifted off our shoulder, but, of course, that was just the beginning," Marian says.

When Martha was about 11, she was put on Prozac, taking three times the dosage of an adult. As she worsened, her medication was increased.

"I don't remember a year of my life because of that," Martha, now 26, says in a telephone call from the Philippines.

She had a "suicidal episode" at 12 and hit critical. Her psychiatrist recommended hospitalization.

Martha spent more than four months in a children's psychiatric ward in the U.S. There, she was properly diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and severe depression.

Proper support was put in place before Martha was discharged. A stable home environment, co-operation with the school system, individual and family therapy and medications were prescribed.

"If any one of those pieces is not there, then that will diminish the capacity to succeed," Martha says.

It was time to go home, but life wasn't easy. At school, she was ridiculed by her peers, humiliated, spat on. But with the right treatment, Martha went on to graduate from high school and university.

She's currently doing an internship with Human Rights International Network in the Philippines.

"I still have my struggles, for sure," Martha says.

If it wasn't for her family, she wouldn't be alive, she says.

For her mother, it was a relentless battle to help Martha.

"If parents give up hope on their child, then how can the child continue to have hope?" Marian says.

nelly.elayoubi@ott.sunpub.com

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