June 11, 2014

I'm Rog, the father of Paul. AC Milan Stefano Brivio Flickr Paul is an ordinary type of guy; he's maybe a little quiet, but he has a job, a car and, during the period I am going to be talking about, everything seemed wonderful. I wasn't giving things a second thought – I had my own job and my own worries.

One Thursday Paul came home from work early; he said he had clocked out and just come home!


After all, Paul is not a teenager - he's 26 - surely he should know better than this. Paul went to work the next day and stayed the shift. "Oh good, I got through to him", I thought.

The following week Paul clocked out early again on the last day of his shift pattern, so he now had four days off. When I asked what on earth was he up to, he said he was depressed.

"DEPRESSED?!” I said.

I didn't have time to get depressed, especially at his age. At his age I had just become a father and had achieved a promotion. I thought: “It must be lovely to have the time to be depressed".

When I look back, the stigma started with me

Two weeks later, on a Friday morning, Paul got up and was talking quite strangely. By Friday night he was discussing all the evil he had done in his life. I was confused – I knew Paul as a really nice guy; it wasn't true that he had done evil things. I started to think: “Is there a secret life I don't know about?”.

The next day Paul was in deep distress; he believed every car was a police car and they were coming to lock him away for all the evil things he had done. Suddenly I had to challenge the opinions I had held for years – I had to grown up; my Paul was having problems with his mental health. But what do you do? Who do you talk to? I knew my local hospital A&E unit had a psychiatric unit, I'll start there. But how could MY son need a unit like that? A few hours later I was walking him into the local specialist Mental Health Hospital. Paul was a very poorly man. I'm his dad and, when I look back, the stigma started with me. Oh boy did I have a steep learning curve to climb.

Paul's journey to recovery: How a Dad became friend

Day 3: Paul slept and wept for the past two days in the mental health unit. The staff have been marvellous, feeding me information - but none of it has gone in. The only question I need answering is:- What did I do wrong to cause this? At the end of visiting time, Paul just stood there, all 6ft of him, with tears rolling down his cheeks, I gave him a hug and left. I was on the 20 minute drive home and it hit me – hard. I was thinking about me yet it was Paul who was ill. I'd hugged him, and he smiled, for the first time in weeks. Paul didn't need any medication from me, he just needed me! So come on Rog, be his Dad.

The next day at visiting time, I hugged him when I went in. Such a little natural action but it meant the earth to Paul. We sat and talked like two guys having a chat. That night travelling home I realised he doesn't need Rog the dad; he needs Rog his friend.

Day 6: Paul was now asking a few questions of his new friend and we even managed a little joke. Although still a poorly guy, Paul was showing a glimmer of being the person he was before.

Day 21: The Consultant said I could take Paul out for a couple of hours. He wanted to go to the restaurant I hate the most, but we went and we ate. Two guys having a meal together. By now I knew Paul's recovery was going to be long term and I had booked myself on a night class about Paul's psychotic episode. So the classes started and we went to the same restaurant for the next few days, and then the magic words: Paul can have a night at home.

Four years on: The friendship we built up in those early days has gone from strength to strength. I do believe this new bond has helped us both. And you know what? I've realised you don't need time on your hands to be depressed; it is like the flu - it can happen to anyone, at anytime, at any age.

Listen to the person – their fears and demons are very real to them

If anyone were to ask my advice about how to deal with a person experiencing mental health problems, I would have to say a few things that I believe--but understand I am not an expert--are important.

  1. If they want to stay in bed all day, let them! Give them space.
  2. Carry on living your life as far as is possible. Go out - it will do you good and you'll be of more use to the person when you get back a little chilled out.
  3. Show the person you care and love them but don't feel guilty when the frustration builds up inside you and you want to yell.

Sometimes just saying “Hello” can give someone a boost

And me now? Well we all know--if we care to observe--a lot of people with varying mental health issues. Sometimes saying "Hello" can give someone a boost. Listen to the person: their fears and demons are very real to them; sharing them with a friend can help. Do I feel guilty about my first, unenlightened response to Paul's illness? Yes, of course I do, but sincerely hope I have made it up to him and helped a few others like him on the way.

Paul's condition is under control now and he is happy - hopefully he will soon be marrying his fiancée! It can be a long, slow, hard road but worthwhile for a son, and good friend, like Paul.

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