What's Wrong With My Son?

A mother shares her story with of a nearly two decade struggle before finding out her son suffers from major depression.

Cathy shares what it was like having a child with depression and her struggles with him and the school system.Kindergarten, that's when I first noticed something was wrong, but what? My son clung to me like a fly to flypaper. I could not get him to let go of me. The teacher did not help at all. While my son was clinging and I was struggling, she just went on doing what she was doing, like we were not there. She had no control over her class of 15 or so 5-year-olds. From day one, they were all over the classroom.

As I sat my son down in the chaos and tried to leave, he made a mad dash for the door and me. This went on every single day. Not knowing what else to do, I went to the principal asking him if I could change my son's class. He took me to another teacher and asked her if she had room for a "crier" to which she replied "NO thanks! I have enough of my own here."

Am I A Bad Mother?

My son was stuck in this out-of-control class and so was I. This particular day, when I was trying to leave the school, my son stuck to my side. The principal approached me and asked me if I had ever left my child with anyone when I went out. I told him no, I take him with me wherever I go. "Well then," he replied, "It's your fault that he is acting this way. You never left him with anyone".

I was pretty upset by his remark and replied: "Are you calling me a bad parent?" To which he replied? "Well, if you had left him sometimes, he would be used to being away from you." "Well," I said, "I raised my other son the same way and he's sitting in a classroom as we speak". That ended that conversation.

The Teacher Doesn't Even Know My Child

It's parent teacher conference day. I have been sitting in the class with my son for 7 months now. My son's teacher invites me in and tells me to sit while she gets some papers together and the photos from picture day. She then hands me the pictures and says" Here they are and "Jessica came out so lovely." I'll admit Jessica did come out lovely; only I was not Jessica's mother". Oh I am sorry you're---??

She didn't know who I was or who my child was? How could this be?

My son's been crying and fighting with me when I try to leave for 7 months and she has no clue of who I am. When I tell her his name and then ask her: "just for the heck of it, how he is doing? " (Because now I am curious). She says, "Oh, he's doing just fine, keeping up with the class."

"Really?!," I reply. Am I shocked? A little, I have to be honest.

New Grade Level, Behavior the Same

My son enters first grade. No change. I have a friend who is a school yard monitor who tried to lead my son into school by the hand. She was successful a few times. Now, at least once a week, my son would say he was sick, his stomach ached and he refused to get dressed. He honestly looked ill. He would curl into a ball under the covers and stay there.

Then it became 2-3 days a week. He would do this complaining of a stomach ache. (Little did I know that anxiety actually can do this.)

Even though the first grade teacher took an instant liking to my son, he had a very hard time attending. Then he contracted pneumonia and was home for a few weeks. It was the end of the school year.

Second Grade: Same routine as the first two years. After a month, this teacher suggests that something may be wrong with my son. She says she does not want to alarm me. She cannot pinpoint what is wrong. She tells me my son asks to use the bathroom many times during the day. She suggests I have him tested (evaluated). I thought not at this time.

Third Grade: The same routine. 2-3 days he was ill. This teacher didn't say much about my son at all, so I was assuming that all was well when he was there.

Fourth Grade A few months into it and this teacher complained to me that my son was not organized; did not pay attention and was inattentive. She suggested that he might need to be held over. This really bothers my son and he became angry. He was ready to tear up his report card. Then I thought back to his second grade teacher who suggested I get my son tested.

Getting a Educational and Psychological Evaluation for My Child

I took my son to be evaluated educationally and psychologically. (Privately, not through the school). I was lucky enough to have a doctor in the family who was the dean of Einstein University and connected me with the evaluators there.

My son's psychological evaluation reported that my son was of normal intelligence with perhaps some attention and concentration difficulties. However, because of his constrictive manner, maybe it had affected the tests' output. (And?)

Raymond's educational evaluation reported he was of overall intellectual function with normal intelligence who maybe experiencing some attention defect. Those were my answers. My son is not held over this year.

Fifth Grade: Another teacher who likes him instantly. This teacher reports that she believes my son is very intelligent but he forgets everything. She actually refers to him as her little "absent-minded professor." Even though my son and I like this teacher very much, he is still in the pattern of 2-3 days of no school. This is becoming the norm and I don't even think about it that much as being a problem.

Sixth Grade: My son's first male teacher. This does not make much difference except that this teacher is another who takes an interest in my son. The same pattern exists as before, nothing has changed. One of the days, my son was crying and did not want to go to school because he forgot he had math homework and it wasn't done.

My son always had a problem with math and remembering the steps to use to solve the problems. He understood it when you told him, but a minute later, it was gone. My son got ready to go, even though he was still crying. I refused to let him stay home, telling him it would be okay; he could make up the homework.

I bring my son into the building and walk him to the room five minutes late. I seat him down and leave the room. Walking down the street, I hear someone calling me. It is my son's teacher. He is running after me. The teacher wanted to know why my son was crying. I told him because of the math homework. The teacher tells me he will talk to my son because he never wants him to be that upset over homework. He also tells me he knows my son is very intelligent and plans on helping him become an honor student. How wonderful I thought. ...Then we move!

A New Neighborhood, A New School

It's January and we are in a new home in a new neighborhood. School will start for my son four months into the year. My son seemed to adjust to this move very well. He made friends and was now in seventh grade.

There were still days where he could not go, he says. I thought: wow, this is great. Maybe he's getting better at attending.

Everyday, I would give my son money to have in case he got lost or didn't know his way home or something. I was a worried mother - new school, new neighborhood. He had to walk one mile.

One day, the principal took my son out of his class and asked him to empty his pockets. My son did. He had $10. The principal asked him where he got this money. My son told him I gave it to him in the morning. The principal says to my son: "So if I call your mom she will know about this money?"

"Yes, you can call her," my son says. "Why," the principal asks, "does your mother send you to school with all this money?" My son explains "in case I need it to get home". My son didn't tell me about this incident until two weeks after it occurred. It seems that a girl in his class got her money stolen. They found the kid who did steal it but never apologized to my son for accusing him. Besides, it turns out that the girl had $10 also but she had two $5 bills. My son had a ten. My question is: why they didn't ask the girl why she had $10.

More Psychological Testing

It seems my son needed another evaluation. Same place as before. This time, the psychological testing revealed that my son was suffering with feelings of anxiety and possibly depression. The recommendation was for my son to begin in weekly psychotherapy. Now the search was on for a doctor. I had to make an appointment to actually see the psychologist who tested my son to get the full results. I made an appointment and then she had to cancel so we made another then we had to cancel. I called her to see if she could possibly tell me the full results over the phone or mail them to me. She refused, saying I had to go there and she would give me the results. I took it upon myself to think nothing "that bad" was in those results; since she would not send them or discuss the over the phone. We went without the full report until the following year.

Needless to say nothing is changing but remaining the same. Years are passing and no help has been given to my son.

Things Are Getting Worse with Time

Seventh Grade: Things are changing, they are getting worse. My son never goes to school. We fight every morning. I scream at him, he at me.

My son now slams doors and punches holes in walls. He is hysterical. Day-after-day, it's the same fight. One morning, I try to be calm, to try to get him calm to get him to school. Nothing works.

Sometimes I can get him as far as the car and it takes me almost two hours to do that. Once I finally get him in the car and we are approaching the school, my son gets more agitated. He threatens to jump out of the car if I do not pull over to talk. I usually do, to no avail.

This one day, I refuse to pull over and talk and I drive directly in front of the school. My son immediately dives onto the floor of the car and begs me and pleads with me not to make him go in there. "Please, please don't make me go in there. Take me away from here, please."

I am at my wits end, lost; don't know what to do anymore. I have no idea what is wrong with my child. I decided it was time to write a letter to the school principal.

Of course, my son's teachers are all tell me he is failing. I am asked to meet with the teachers. I wanted to meet with them earlier in the year, but they didn't seem to have the time. Now they want to meet with me... (The letter I suppose). Most of the teachers told me the same thing: my son was "lazy, inattentive", and he didn't show up. (No kidding)

I took my son to the doctor who decided to put him on Ritalin after I had explained what the teachers had told me. Ritalin seemed to work. For two weeks, my son went to school, did his homework and I thought a miracle had occurred. Near the end of the two-week run, my son came home with this to say: he had his notebook opened to show the teacher his homework, he was very proud of his accomplishment. The teacher walked past him and remarked "I won't even bother wasting my time with you, you never do anything" and she slammed his book shut. This certainly did not help, did it? When another teacher accused him of refusing to open his reading book, I knew it was an outrageous lie. My son would never refuse to do what he was told. That was the last straw. I was going to school to confront them. I spoke to the principal about what had occurred.

Confronting the School Administration

The principal took the teacher's side, of course. I didn't get to say much since he did all the talking. So I decided it was time to write to the community superintendent to complain. I mentioned how the school was not helping the situation. Not even a week passed when I received a phone call from the principal. He was screaming, asking me why I wrote that letter and he ranted and raved, finally ending with the fact that he didn't care anyway because his "ass was covered."

In the end, he knew I was angrier than before and he offered to have my son see a school social worker from the mental health facility based in the school. (That was news to me). When my son could bring himself to go to school, he would see the social worker for 45 minutes once a week. My son did this for part of the year. The social worker met with me towards the end of the year and suggested my son see a psychiatrist from the facility in which she worked. I agreed to do it. The psychiatrist's diagnosis was that my son was "fine", that there wasn't a darn thing wrong with him." It was my fault (once again) because I let him get away with not going to school. Even after I explained how we struggled and fought every day over this. Her suggestion was this -- she told me to get two strong men from my neighborhood to help me drag him to school. I thought okay, this is it; this is the end of this discussion. Somehow, the school base support team decided to have my son (once again) tested.

Another Psychological Test

I received a call that they wanted my son to meet with the school district guidance counselor. Fine, we agreed to meet with her. She was a wonderful older woman (a grandma type). My son was sitting in the office with her and she and I were talking and he was listening. Not five minutes had gone by and my son got up and said "I am sorry I don't mean to disrespect you but I have to get out of here," and he took off for the door. I made my apologies and ran after him, finding him outside trembling and crying. I couldn't believe my eyes. I hugged him and kissed him and we went to the car. Now I was convinced that something bad had to happen to him in that school to make him so fearful.

Things do not get any better. In order for my son to pass to the next grade, they want him to attend summer school. I put him in a Catholic summer program. He goes sometimes. I pay $300 for it.

He is able to go to eighth grade. Well, he is promoted to eighth grade, not that he is able to go because he is not going ...period!!! Guess what happens next? The school base support team wants an evaluation.

Why not? My son is evaluated again... (I've lost count) This time they find he might benefit from resource room! Really? I say, great, now tell me this: how do I get him to go? Are these people paying any attention at all to what has been going on for the last eight years?

Things just get worse if you can believe that. I receive a call from the community superintendent in charge of attendance; they threaten me with child welfare. They explain that officials will be notified of my child's attendance and I will have to go to court. I can't believe this...

I call the attendance board. I speak with a woman who hears my story and tells me to get a school team to put my son on home instruction. First, I will have to get a letter from a therapist stating that my son is school phobic. (This is all new to me) home instructions and school phobia... why didn't anyone mention this to me before? It is obviously a condition since the women at the attendance board said it to me. This is my only chance to stay out of the court system.

School Phobia, Psychiatric Medication and the Need for Punishment

Now I am on a mission. I have to find a therapist who deals with this. I figured the best place to start would be my insurance company. I called them with the services I needed and they found me someone. I called the doctor with anticipation in my heart. I was told he is more geared towards adults not children. I now need another number. I was given one. Let's call this therapist; my son's savior. He agreed to meet with my son and to see what was going on. He had experience with children. My son and I met with the therapist a few times and we liked him. He gave us the letter we needed after a few sessions and my telling him what we had gone through and are still going through. I took the letter to the school based support team and they were finally convinced that my son needed to be home schooled.

During this time, the therapist suggested that my son see a psychiatrist as well. He felt my son would benefit from some form of medication for anxiety. The search is now on for a psychiatrist. We find one. He is the head of the department and is a child psychiatrist. He sees my son once a month and puts him on Ritalin (once again). Not working. My son is still anxious. Not going to school. After a few months, the psychiatrist wants to try Prozac. My husband and I discuss this and we are not willing to put our child on this medication.

The psychiatrist changes our mind. Well, we should have gone with our own instincts. My son, once on this antidepressant medication, becomes violent and very disobedient. He overturns my table and chairs, punches holes in walls (again) and curses me (this is not my son). I call the psychiatrist to tell him what is happening. He tells me it's probably not the medication but I can stop it if I want. He also suggests that I call the police if he destroys my property. (He's just a kid and he is definitely not himself.) Now the therapist knows of the situation and he and the psychiatrist talk and suggest that my son needs to be punished. (Punished?? He's punished enough with everyday life).

They tell me if he does not go to school he should not be allowed to socialize and should just stay at home. I am at my wits end!!!

Finally I am told that my son will be starting home instructions. Something good is happening. This wonderful older woman comes to our house every morning she makes my son very interested in his schoolwork. I am so happy. She tells him, after three months, he is going to graduate into ninth grade.

Back to Public School

My son is now registered at the local high school, no easy process either. September rolls around and it's time to go. My son goes a few days. He's told he has to get his program for his classes from his grade advisor. Every day, he is told to wait for his program. This ends up being a week. Still, no program. My son is getting anxious.

He calls his grade advisor who tells him to come in one day during the week and his program will be there. My son goes, he waits, no program. He cannot find his grade advisor. He sits around for awhile until he starts to feel a panic attack coming on. He runs home. The next day, I go with him to see what the hold up on the program is. The program is there but it is not what we discussed for my son. It has to be changed. The program he needs will give him only three classes a day to start, so that he can gradually work his way into school. This program has to be written up and officially printed.

My son is given a handwritten program in the meantime. Once he is finished with the three classes, my son has to show security the note so he can be allowed to leave the building at 11:30. Problem: the note is dated. This, of course, leads security to believe it was only meant for the day dated. Now my son is not allowed to leave the building, he is sent to the office. The office tries to reach the grade advisor but he is not in the building at the time. My son begins to panic and begs for them to let him call me. I am not at home. I get the message on my answering machine. My son's voice is cracking and he sounds terrified. I couldn't get there fast enough. There he is in the office. He's pacing and he feels like he's going to throw up. He's sweating.

I tell them I am taking him home. The next day, I tell him we will go together to get his paper changed. Not going to happen. He will not go back there. My son might need home instructions again. An appointment is set for him to meet with high school based support team for home instructions. My son is to meet with them at 3:30 at the school. I waited for months for this appointment. It's nearing 3:30. I tell my son to get ready; he starts shaking, he can't go he tells me.

Now I am really agitated. I tell him he is going. With that, he runs out of the house. I have to call and explain this to the support team. They are understanding and tell me they will come to our home to evaluate him. Within a week, I was called to come to school to discuss the testing and make some decisions on my son's behalf.

A Program for School Phobics

I met with the team who seemed truly concerned and willing to help. They had many ideas. One specific one was a school in Brooklyn where they actually had a school phobic program that was very successful. I was so excited about that. It sounded like I had found what I have been searching for all these years.

Once I agreed, one of the members went to find out what he could about the program. Good news, my son would probably benefit from the program, the bad news, no transportation. My heart sank. How would he get back and forth? The team told me that the only way things are achieved is when parents fight for them. One member suggested my son get medication once again. I was on another mission. How to get transportation for phobic Staten Island kids to the program in Brooklyn.

I wrote to the superintendent of schools, equal opportunity coordinator, I even wrote the newspaper. I wanted to get parents together to help fight for a bus to Brooklyn for our children. In the meantime, I made another appointment for my son to see the psychiatrist he saw in the past. (The one who gave him the Prozac).

After reviewing my son's chart, the psychiatrist asked us why we were back. I told him it's been a year and nothing has changed with my son. I told him the school psychologist suggest we see a psychiatrist and not the same one. To this, he just shrugged his shoulders. He did want to speak to my son alone and he did.

After 15 minutes he came out and spoke to me. He said, "My son had gotten better. He was more open and had many facial expressions.

He thought that my son was much happier now. He said he did not see any signs of my son being crazy or going crazy in the future. Ok, then how about me? Do you think I will make it?

Cathy and son who suffers with major depression which eventually led to two suicide attempts.He didn't feel that my son needed medication. This guy put him on Prozac and now he's all-better, even though nothing has changed. His only suggestion was to get a caseworker at school to help me. There is nothing they can do or have they been able to do to help me. He then suggested that I give him the names of people he could call at school to tell them he was fine. NO WAY... was I giving him a list. Then my son would not be able to get home instructions (with his misdiagnosis). Well, the very next day I received an IEP with the recommendations of home instructions. Now all I had to do was sign it (Hurray). I really would like my son to attend school like everyone else. I am still going to check out the Brooklyn school. I did visit the school it was wonderful. Of course, it was still school and my son did not like to be in the building. They told me that there are teachers, psychologists and social workers all in the building helping the school phobic kids.

I was also told no kids from other boroughs were currently attending. They suggested I check out the programs where I live in Staten Island. Meanwhile, I am still waiting for home instructions to start. It is two weeks into March and instructions were supposed to start the beginning of March. I had to call CSE to see if they knew what was going on. They tell me that the paperwork was sent in February to the home instruction office; I would have to call them. I called them when I hung up from the CSE. I was told that the home instruction office never received the package with my son's paperwork. The only thing they had was my agreement with the home instructions program.

They would have to contact CSE. Paperwork has to be resent.

The home instruction office told me it was quite extraordinary not to have received the package. (Not to me it isn't. That's the way things have been going our whole life). I did receive a response to my letter from the special education department stating that "parents and educators should start thinking in terms of what services could be brought to the children and not where to send the children. The CSE also stated that they would request that my son be sent to an appropriate program when he was able to attend one. The outcome is: my son is receiving home instructions. The teacher now wants to try and meet with my son in the library of the school. (This is not home instructions is it?)

My son agrees to try. He does want to be able to do this. He goes sometimes... I am so happy and impressed. He doesn't make it everyday, though he does make it sometimes. The teacher is not happy with this. She complains all the time about his attendance. Well she is supposed to be coming to my house, that's what home instructions are. She tells me he is no longer "phobic" and that when he shows up, he can sit with her in the library. She suggests he is just being truant.

Well here it comes. She call to say that she is not going to waste her time sitting in the library waiting for a kid that does not show up. And that it is my fault (here we go again) and my responsibility to get him there. (Famous last words) I told her I was tired of being blamed for his absence. She said she was going to sign a 407 so that the court would monitor his attendance and if he doesn't show up the court will take him (blah blah blah). I told her to do what she has to do.

Then she told me to find another psychologist for him. Why? He's just truant I thought. I have often asked this question of the professionals "what would you do if your child would not attend school"? Most common answer: punish them. You know, I wonder what they expect of me. They expect me to get him to go to school when 30 professionals have tried and failed. I kept a list of the people I have spoken to and there were thirty.

Before she hangs up, she asks me if I could drive him to school. Sure I can, but there is no guarantee what time he will show up. I can call his name for a half hour, wait twenty minutes for him to come down and get in the car. I can tell him to hurry and it will still be one hour before we can get there. So in the end, his teacher dumped him. She said she "won't waste her time with him." Other kids need her. She said she would be by to pick up her books.

No Teacher and Feeling Abandoned Again

Now my son has no teacher and no program. I was told to call someone at the CSE about this and see what he or she could do. Well, another evaluation for my son. (Really). I receive a letter for a meeting to discuss my son's report. On the note, it states "please invite the home instruction teacher to join the meeting." Are they for real?

The reason for the re-evaluation and meeting is because his teacher dumped him.

I had my son see another therapist. He spoke to my son for ten minutes and me for ten minutes. His recommendation is that my son takes a tranquilizer and goes to school. He says the school should be responsible for educating him and that he should have been on a tranquilizer a long time ago. He wants to know why did the other doctor stop after the Prozac incident? He also says that my son should attend school for a one-to-three hour and tell the school to call him if they have any questions. The answer is to medicate and send him to school. Well how original!

After waiting for the school to let me know when the meeting will be, I can't make it because I have jury duty. So they tell me they will have the meeting without me and probably put my son back on home instructions with another teacher. I tell them that I had sent a letter to them with a report and two doctors notes. They have no idea what I am talking about in regard to my son and the meeting (I called because it was 2 weeks and I didn't hear anything about the meeting results). They also don't know if they received the notes.

Now three months pass and no school for my son. Finally, they call me. They didn't have the meeting. They want me to attend. I go, psychologists, evaluators, teachers and I. They asked me some questions (the norm) and come to conclude my son gets home instructions. This is just a band-aid, of course. I am told the case should be reopened again in a few months. I told them I was going to look into programs for him (they liked that). We have seven more months of this and my son will be 16. He might choose to quit school altogether, but I will try my best to get him to stick with this and get his diploma.

It still amazed me, even after all that we have been through, it just never ends. Did I mention that they wanted me to look into a program for suicidal and emotionally disturbed kids? It was inside a psychiatric center. I told them no thanks. I heard about that place and it's for drug abusers and violent kids. I do not think that will help my son. I was told I could not judge the place unless I visited it. Well I did call the place and explained the situation, guess what? I was told it does not sound like an appropriate program for my son. In the end, my son does receive home instructions where the teacher comes to our home.

Finally! Graduation and Out of Hell

Over the years, my son has 3 different teachers. He does very well and gets a regular high school diploma. That ends the school year. I asked my son what he would call a book if he ever decided to write one about his school years and he called it "The Long Road Out Of Hell."

My son is now 25. He is on Seroquel and Lexapro. This is after two suicide attempts that came six months apart. He spent one week in a psychiatric hospital the first time and two weeks the second time.

My son used to cry uncontrollably and not know why. He used to tell me he could not take it anymore. He was ready to die. The first suicide attempt, I found him bleeding from a self-inflicted wound. He told me he was ready to die because it had to be better than what he has been going through. My son is a strong man 5'8", 190lbs. Depression is stronger.

It is has been one hell of a journey with the beast. The only positive thing that has come of all this is that we have a name for the thing that has possessed my son all these years and some medications that are helping. Its not 100%, but it is better. My son still suffers from social anxiety. He has no friends and no job. He is a very dear person, very caring and very helpful. This is part of our story.

It has been a long journey and now that we know what we are dealing with: "Depression." We know it's a lifelong struggle. We will stay strong. We will fight with every ounce of our being and we will continue to find the right medications that will help him be with us for years to come.

Hope During the Tough Times

I hope this helps someone out there. To let them know they are not alone and it is always a struggle. Never give up, never give in.

I once heard a doctor on TV who was advocating for phobic kids say this: "No one knows your child better than you do, even though they think they do. Not everything that is learned or taught from textbooks can be applied to every situation as some seem to believe."

Don't give up and don't give in and you may just be okay.

next: Mental Illness - Information for Families
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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, February 28). What's Wrong With My Son?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: June 24, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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