Jeff Warner, Guelph
For Jeff Warner’s youngest sons, it was the trauma of growing up with an older brother suffering complex mental illness that triggered anxiety. For nearly a decade, Jeff and his wife struggled to support their eldest who first started showing signs of mental illness at age four; by age 13, he had attempted suicide several times and been hospitalized on multiple occasions. Extreme aspects of his illness left the family coping with constant physical, verbal and emotional abuse that was directed at their family. In September 2018, the eldest son was moved into a long-term psychiatric treatment centre, two hours away from the family’s home.
As a consequence, Jeff’s two youngest sons have significant trauma related anxiety issues.
“They overreact to any anxiety. For example, if we are more than a minute late picking them up from school, the youngest will start to hyperventilate, and go hide somewhere, bursting into tears that we "abandoned" him; when upset he regularly runs and hides in his closet or under his bed,” said Jeff. “The nine-year-old was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder last year.”
The family has struggled to receive the care the youngest boys need because of long wait times – partly because the boys did not appear to mental health service providers to be in ‘crisis’. Now, the challenge is that they can only get one appointment every three to five weeks. They have been able to access private therapy through work benefits and from the support of the local Family & Children’s Services.
“Some of the most useful supports for our family and especially for our children with anxiety has been "special friends" provided by Family & Children's Services, which has provided us with some support that our local mental health organization was unable to provide,” said Jeff. “They gave a sense of normalcy and space away from the home while their brother was getting more intensive support from our local mental health agency (CMHA).”
Specifically, Family & Children’s Services were able to find screened volunteers who act like "Big Brothers" for the younger boys, taking them out once every week or two for a one-to-one activity, time alone and away from the house.
“This has been incredibly valuable for our nine-year-old,” said Jeff. “Family & Children’s Services has also provided us with some activities (local hockey games, swimming at the rec centre) and gas cards to help with the costs of visiting our son when he is in treatment outside of London. Essentially, they have been able to fill in some important gaps in helping us to remain a functioning family unit.”
The ongoing struggle to manage their children’s mental health challenges have taken a toll on the family – emotionally and financially. Jeff, had to reduce his work hours to part-time in order to ensure his sons have the care they need, and he has the time to get them to appointments.
“I had to take a stress leave of several months, primarily for our oldest, and my wife has taken several stress leaves and mental-health sick days,” he said. “We have both missed countless days for appointments and specialists, even just for our nine-year-old; he averages an appointment every week or two.”
Jeff recently went back to work, but now his wife is working part-time hours instead.