MILLBROOK, N.S. - Matthew Glode sat in an empty room after an emergency trip to hospital in Halifax.
In his hand, a card for the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team.
The card was handed to him after a mental health specialist checked over his eight-year-old son. Shawn lay in a hospital bed, half-conscious from being sedated earlier.
Matthew recognized the card – he’d seen it days before losing his oldest son.
“I just remember looking at it, and thinking, ‘Here we go again.’ I felt a lot of despair, because here we were, looking for help again, and there was absolutely none being offered.”
Two years ago, the Glodes needed help for their oldest son, Cody, who suffered from depression. But after a number of desperate visits seeking help – and being given the same mobile crisis team card – Cody took his own life.
Cody was 20 years old and seemed to be on top of the world: a new car, a great career as Truro’s youngest and only Mi’kmaq firefighter, and showing much promise as a mixed martial arts fighter with a legitimate shot at becoming a professional.
Now the Millbrook family is again reaching out to the system that failed them before. They need help for their adopted son, Shawn, who is on the autism spectrum and frequently suffers from violent outbursts and virtual meltdowns.
One of them prompted the recent week day visit to the IWK Children’s Centre in Halifax.
“The aggression and the violence has been getting increasingly worse as he gets older,” said Lisa Glode, Shawn’s mother.
“We got a phone call from the school saying there had been an episode. He had gotten upset, flipped a table and just started hitting and punching everyone. So Matthew had picked him up from school and said, ‘We’re going right to the IWK.’”
But after five hours in a room where their child continued to rage, and being turned away without help, the Glodes are worried over what the future holds for their family and for Shawn.
“The mental health system has let us down greatly, and I cannot believe we need to go down this path again,” said Lisa.
“Without help, he will need to be put into a place of safety. He will have to go into temporary care with Mi’kmaq Family, and that’s not what we want. Usually you hear about kids being taken because they aren’t getting the adequate care, but in our case, it’ll be a kid being given back to the system because there was nothing in place to help us.”
Shawn’s outbursts have left the Glodes feeling alone and helpless. They’ve isolated themselves from family and friends out of fear something will happen if they have guests to the house
“My daughter, Caitlin, who’s 21, has a little girl named Piper, but we never get to see her,” said Lisa.
“We can’t bring her here and take the chance of her getting hurt. Even other people coming into the house, it is instant over-stimulation for Shawn. We very seldom have people come in, and when we do, they are very nervous.”
The violent outbursts have reached a point where Lisa is no longer able to handle Shawn herself. One outburst at her parents’ home almost led her to call police for help. This leaves his father to deal with Shawn’s care when an episode starts.
“Right now, I have to be home when he’s home. Period. I’m the only one of us who can handle him,” said Matthew.
“We’re always on eggshells with him. He has some good days, but it’s very stressful to deal with. You just don’t know when it will happen. I’ve had black eyes, the skin scratched off my face and my teeth put through my tongue. I’m a tough lad, but he’s very difficult to deal with.”
Aside from leaving Lisa unable to handle her son and Matthew bruised and beaten, Shawn’s episodes have also affected his younger biological brother Ty, adopted at birth, like Shawn.
“Ty is beginning to exhibit signs of a child that has experienced violence at home. He flinches a lot and is very clingy,” said Lisa.
“He’s very apprehensive to play with Shawn, even when Shawn is having a good moment. He’d love to have friends over but he never has and we’d love to put him in hockey this year, but I couldn’t take Shawn to the rink with me, and we don’t have anyone to watch him, so he misses out on a lot too.”
Though Shawn is now on a waiting list for help, the Glodes harbour some skepticism. And they fear this may be their last resort for helping Shawn.
“My nightmare is, we get to the point where we don’t get the help we need, we don’t get into the programs and we need to surrender him,” said Lisa.
“Then, when he gets to a good point, he’s going to look back at us and wonder why we aren’t going with him. He’s known nothing but us, our home, he’s been with us since he was four days old, and we don’t want to take that away from him.
“We’re just praying he gets into this program and gets the help he deserves within the next few weeks.”
Signs of hope
After another violent episode with their son, just a few days after their IWK visit, the Glodes returned to the hospital.
This time, to their surprise, the care they received for Shawn was much better.
“This time the doctor actually came in with toys to keep him occupied, and got down on the floor to talk with him,” said Matthew Glode.
“They still didn’t admit him, but they explained to me if they did, he may not exhibit these behaviours in a new environment. They told me they were putting a referral in for an in-patient program at the IWK, so it seems like we’re at least moving in the right direction.”
Along with the program, the family is hoping to get in-house support for Shawn. They’ve also begun looking into alternative medicines in hopes of giving their child a more stable day-to-day life.