My son’s death revealed the connection between mental illness and addiction

This First Person column is the experience of Sandra Ingram, a retired Winnipegger who wants to connect with other families struggling with mental illness and addiction. For more information on CBC First Person stories, please see Frequently asked questions.

I’m a retired professor and until 20 months ago I was the mother of a young man who taught me life lessons I never thought were mine to learn.

Devin, our only child and the center of our lives, passed away at the age of 22 on February 7, 2021, later found to have been caused by an accidental opioid-related overdose.

While he had to undergo psychiatric treatment for the last few years of his life and was hospitalized twice, nothing could have prepared my husband and I for this unimaginable loss.

Devin is a sweet, affectionate and loving child. In his late teens, he transformed, becoming increasingly isolated and introverted, with a growing addiction to video games.

A boy wearing a Bob the Builder shirt hugs his mother, who is smiling.
Sandra Ingram, right, and her son Devin. She described him as a sweet, affectionate and loving child. (Submitted by Sandra Ingram)

By the age of 14, he started experimenting with marijuana, and while our parents didn’t approve of it, he secretly continued to use more potent drugs – we already know – to calm down. Anarchy was taking root in his brain.

Severe mental illnesses often present at this age and take years to be fully diagnosed due to their complexity – not to mention the potential medical, legal and social implications of some diagnoses. guess.

By 11th grade, he was being treated for anxiety and depression. By the time he graduated from high school, Devin was so nervous that he couldn’t attend.

The fact that he reached that milestone is what we today consider astonishing.

I will go ahead and do my best to help my son recover.​​– Sandra Ingram

Immediately after graduation, Devin was hospitalized for a mental disorder. He has lost touch with reality and is hearing voices.

Because drug use can interfere with a diagnosis of serious mental illness, we were not informed at this stage that he had definitive illness. It wasn’t until post-psychotic treatment that I heard schizophrenia could be a possibility, but we need to wait and see how recovery plays out.

The word terrified me so much that I decided I wouldn’t read about it or learn more until, or unless, I had to. In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and do my best to help my son recover from this crisis with the multitude of medications he needs to recover.

A boy in a white taekwondo uniform stood looking straight ahead.
Sandra Ingram’s son Devin is at the center of her life with her husband. (Submitted by Sandra Ingram)

As a mother, I am very concerned about his developing illness. About his drug use, I was very angry, guilty and even embarrassed. How could this happen to him and us?

As a teenager, as Devin became more socially withdrawn, we encouraged him to consider volunteering. Despite the pain, he still embraced the idea.

He has dedicated more than 600 hours of service – mostly with an organization that enhances the quality of life for individuals with severe developmental disabilities, to help them live their best lives with dignity and respect. respect.

After his death, they planted a tree and set aside a physical space in his memory. They even created an annual award named after him.

Now I know better and see what addiction is.– Sandra Ingram

Devin’s condition approached a diagnosis of schizophrenia in the months before his death, when he was hospitalized for the second time. We now know that Devin suffers from two potentially fatal illnesses: schizophrenia and addiction. Both of these robbed him of his ability to live.

And while you may recognize schizophrenia as a disease, I suspect there are a lot of people out there who question whether addiction deserves that label. Up until this tragic end, I was one of them, having not been exposed to it before and had a lot of biases. I think it’s a choice.

Now I know better and see what addiction is: a chemical, brain-based compulsive disease. My son no longer chooses the path of addiction but chooses the path of mental illness.

Furthermore, there is a grim connection between the two. Follow Center for Addiction and Mental Health“People with mental illness are twice as likely to develop a substance use disorder as the general population. At least 20% of people with mental illness have a co-existing substance use disorder.” . For people with schizophrenia, the number can be as high as 50%.”

Regardless of education level, social status, or cultural/racial background, mental illness has the potential to destroy lives and families. It contributes to the creation of a vulnerable population, who do not necessarily look different from anyone else and are capable of bringing special gifts to society.

Unfortunately, many people are also at great risk of harm by the ravages of the toxic drug supply and those involved in the opioid trade.

While I’m not naive enough to believe that my son’s troubles would go away if he didn’t have access to opioids, I want people to see the dangers inherent, especially for those with mental illness, which these drugs cause.

After all, their lives matter. Right?

If you are contemplating suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, help is available. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Child Helpline at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, provided by Kids Help Phone, or contact the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3pm to 11pm CT only) |

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