From a single bedroom in the adult psychiatric unit to a shared space in a bedroom for four troubled teenagers, my son, Bob, found it hard to adjust at first. My husband and I were given a lightning tour of the Adolescent Unit, which is part of a larger psychiatric department of another local hospital. The Adolescent Unit was home to approximately twenty boys and girls. It housed a school offering lessons in computer studies, first aid, general science, home economics, and basically, whatever a person might need to be able to live safely and independently. There were no academic subjects available, apart from basic English and maths.
The teenagers were in various stages of recovery, some, like my son, had just been admitted and were either extremely withdrawn or loud and occasionally aggressive. A few would try to escape at first, but most of them used to chill out by listening to music and chatting about pop stars, and other teen subjects.
There were opportunities for day trips, visits to the theatre, and to the cinema, for instance. Our family was not involved in any of these, as we were only allowed one visit per week, on a Wednesday evening, from 18.00 hrs. until bedtime. This was so difficult for us to accept at first, but we were advised that the teenagers would respond better to treatment if parents’ visits were limited in this way. As there was nothing further to do, we took advantage of the situation and rested, which, on reflection, was essential.
Meanwhile, our eldest son was at the local college and one of his friends was trying to re-home his dog and mentioned this to us, so we said we would give the dog a home. When the dog arrived, everything was fine, the dog was friendly and happy, until his owner took his leave and then pandemonium broke out! Eventually the dog accepted that his owner was not coming back and became an important part of the family.
As a treat, on our weekly visits, we would take Bob and one of his companions to the local TGIF’s for a meal. We found out very little about what went on in the Unit through Bob, as he was withdrawn most of the time. He would not look people in the eyes and he had very little to say. We did find out that there had been a number of incidents in which he was involved, though, as the staff made us very much aware of them.
On one occasion, another boy told my son to punch in a window, which he did, and cut his hand, not surprisingly. This same boy used to take him shoplifting in the local store, something that my son would never normally have done. Then there was an incident in the foyer of a theatre, when local youths threatened two of the boys with a knife, and Bob, being a witness, later gave evidence in court. These were just some of his “adventures”.
We began taking our new dog to visit Bob, but we realized that their relationship was not working out. He thought, understandably, that we had taken on the dog as a replacement for him. Over time the situation did not improve much, but they tolerated each other. Bob objected to the dog’s big brown, staring eyes!
Gradually my son recovered, although, still on medication, and, after completing, a year at the Adolescent Unit, he returned home with a number of certificates. He had succeeded in passing three levels of first aid and had done well in computer studies, basic maths, English and also science. He expressed an interest in studying art, so we helped him apply for a course in basic art and design at the local college and he was accepted!