My son Aaron is now 28 and is back again in a hospital mental health ward. He suffered a very bad relapse following his noncompliance with his medication. He looked very ill when I visited him this week and he’d lost a lot of weight. He has little appetite and cannot eat the hospital food. Not that I blame him! It’s so awful in there it really is. Most patients there have smoked cannabis and it is full to bursting point.
Our story is a long and very difficult one to put into words. What I and my son Aaron have been through is truly dreadful. Lloyd, Aaron’s father, has suffered too. The stress of Aaron’s ongoing illness led to several moves and ended in divorce.
It all began when Aaron was 16. We were on a skiing holiday when he first became noticeably unwell. I found some cannabis in his room. I had no idea as Aaron didn’t even drink alcohol as far as I knew. His mood became erratic, laughing one minute, crying the next he spent all day in bed, had no energy and no motivation. Yet till then he’d loved skiing and was a brilliant ice skater.
He returned to school at the end of the holiday. It was the beginning of our journey to hell. He missed days from school, didn’t work and the school phoned us several times. We finally took him out and sent him to another thinking maybe it was the pressure of this particular school that had affected him so badly (although in his pre-drug days he was an A grade student).
Over the next year I honestly started to think he had become a lunatic (though it sounds terrible to say this) but I still had not made the connection between Aaron’s strange behaviour and his drug use. Then I discovered he was taking Skunk, which I now know to be the most evil, disgusting drug that ever came to be. It changed our son’s life for ever though I still hope and pray for a miracle.
Aaron was only 17 when he was first sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent into a hospital. It was the worst day of my life; he cried out for us – his parents. He had to be held down. His screams were heart rending. After 3 months he was discharged and I thought maybe the worst was over. How wrong I was. It was just the beginning of a road that I would not wish on my worst enemy.
Summer time led to another in patient stay – a pattern that was to repeat for the next 11 years. Since then he has been committed between three months to seven months at any one time. The longest was for one year.
Each time he came out of hospital he went back onto cannabis (skunk). It had a temporary calming effect, and made him feel better. But it was only ever for a short while – soon he would be hearing voices again and become totally devoid of motivation. It was so addictive he could not stop it.
These years have been marked by his constant state of depression and suicidal feelings. Once he jumped down onto the tube line at Baker Street, fortunately he was rescued by the British Transport Police. His lifestyle and conduct have made him vulnerable too – he has been beaten up, tied up and robbed and not just once.
I decided to move him to Henley, thinking, naively, there would be hardly any access to drugs there and he would be safer. How wrong I was! Two drug dealers broke into his home, tied him up, blindfolded him, robbed and beat him up badly. Aaron lives in a state of terror as a result. He often says he wants to cease to exist. It is just heartbreaking.
My son was a happy, highly intelligent young man whose life is wasted. Yet he comes from a good and loving family. The idea that cannabis use only destabilises poor families and is ‘cost free’ for the educated and rich, as Andrew Sullivan irresponsibly claims, is a total nonsense.
Many like him are oblivious to the dangers of cannabis especially of skunk. Of course not all young people become psychotic after smoking the drug, but at least ten per cent do. These are usually sensitive people especially males, this is my experience anyway. Everyone who smokes cannabis at a young age is affected in some way or another. Many lives are completely ruined, not only the person taking the drug.
Unfortunately celebrities like Richard Branson, who people look up to, also want drugs legalised. Mr Branson may be lucky enough not to have children who have schizophrenia or are otherwise affected. But he should walk in my shoes and other people’s who have been through hell! This can happen to anyone. Aaron’s drug taking friends may not be as badly affected, yet it is clear they too have lost some of their normal functions. But they all played Russian roulette with their lives. None of them of course are friends to Aaron anymore. He has no friends. Mental illness has a terrible stigma.
Nearly all the patients I’ve met in the various hospitals Aaron has been in over the last eight years have taken drugs in one way or another. They are full of young people who have drug related psychosis. Aaron diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia with a mood component. His psychiatrist believes it to have been triggered by cannabis.
After sessions in 3 private hospitals, he is now treated on the NHS. I honestly do not know how the staff cope. Drugs get into the psychiatric wards and it is almost impossible for the staff to detect people bringing them in. Most of the patients appear to come and go. It’s a revolving door process that’s never ending. That is why I decided to help as the Chairman of Appeals for the mental health charity SANE.
With so many people smoking cannabis I dread to think of what the future holds. I know no one who does not know at least one young person who takes cannabis. It led my son into mental illness or at least triggered it. In my opinion, if he had never touched drugs he would be a healthy individual.
I still live in hope; I pray that my son gets better; at least enough for him to have a reasonable quality of life.