A Mother's Experience with the Onset of Schizophrenia

by Karen Lee
Written for Internet Mental Health, 2 June 2003

When my son was becoming ill with schizophrenia, I had no idea what was happening and didn’t know where to turn for help.  Nobody in my family had ever suffered from a mental illness.  I didn’t really even know what mental illness was.  

I just wish I knew then what I know now.  Early detection of mental illness and early treatment can often prevent full-blown psychosis and improve the long-term prognosis.  

Jason was a sweet, gentle boy who did very well in school.  He had lots of friends and enjoyed reading, bike riding, softball and skiing.  He was easy to get along with, polite and thoughtful.  When Jason was 15 years old, things started to change dramatically.  

Jason was always an average/above average student.  When he announced to me that he had received his report card while at his brother’s soccer game, I asked him how it was.  He casually informed me that he had straight “D”s except for 2 “E”s.  I thought he must be joking and asked him what he really got.  This was the truth!  I couldn’t believe it.  The last report card was all average marks except for one “C-“ in Math.  

We met with the counselor at school.  She stated, “Jason attends classes and is very polite; he just doesn’t do the work”.  I tried to help with his math by going over and over the steps with him, but he just wasn’t getting it.  He seemed so vacant.  It was very strange.

I suspected Jason of using drugs and blamed his decline on them.  

His behavior was changing.  He had stopped reading and doing any kind of sports.  He didn’t want to participate in anything with his family and had lost interest in everything other than going out with his friends.

Once he told me that there is no point to anything – especially school, because the gangs were going to kill him anyway.  (During this time there was a lot of teen violence at the teen center where Jason had been hanging out).  I worried about his comment.

Jason attended an alternative school program in grade 10 where he passed simply for going.  In grade 11 he was put in a regular high school and just didn’t attend class, so was put in an adult learning centre.  He didn’t attend there either.

We were losing control of Jason.  He would go out to all hours and ignore his curfews.  I didn’t know where he was going and he said it was “none of my business”.  He was becoming more and more volatile and we didn’t know where to turn for help.

We took Jason to see a counselor and that was really no help as Jason refused to participate in discussions.  He just slumped in the chair.  In further sessions we simply could not get him to attend.

My husband and I were at our wits end and got involved a group for parents of “Acting Out Teens”.  This did help us separate our issues from Jason’s and what we did actually have control of.  It didn’t make it easier to watch Jason self-destructing.  The other parents in the group seemed to be having similar difficulties and a lot of the problems revolved around drugs.  Jason used drugs as well but he was different somehow and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  

How could such a nice boy change so dramatically?  Jason would blow up at me over everything.  He would rant and rave and tell me to stop yelling at him when I hadn’t been.  He kicked in my cupboard and punched a couple of walls.  He also used to flip a hammer repetitively in his hand (by this I mean he would hold the hammer by the handle and flip it in the air then catch it by the handle).  He also started doing this with my chef’s knife, which really made me nervous.  His behavior and mannerisms were becoming weirder.

At Christmas Jason didn’t buy anyone a gift.  This was very unusual for him.  He just didn’t seem to care and offered no explanation.

Jason did get a job at a gas station after he dropped out of school but became less and less dependable.  The job lasted close to a year before he was fired.  Jason’s friends stopped coming around and he was becoming more and more isolated.  That spring, Jason would sit around the house doing absolutely nothing (not even watching TV).  He became quieter and quieter.

I had this horrible feeling that was getting steadily worse - something was terribly wrong with Jason.  I took some time off work because I felt that if Jason were employed, he would start to feel better.  We did up a résumé and I drove him to numerous locations to drop it off.  At this point he was speaking so quietly I could hardly hear him.  I was just leading him around.  All the fight seemed to be gone out of him.

Through my sister, a job was found for Jason at an oyster farm in Desolation Sound.  He went up there for one week and was sent home.  Evidently Jason did not utter a word the entire time.  He didn’t know why they sent him home because he liked the job.

Jason’s behavior became more bizarre.  He would sit or stand in the same position for hours.  He did absolutely nothing.  I tried to get someone from mental health to come see him, but they refused without being accompanied by a police officer.  I thought this would be too harsh.  

On Jason’s 19th birthday, I found a backpack in Jason’s closet, which contained rope, gasoline and a knife.  I finally did call the police and they coaxed Jason to go to hospital for an assessment.  Jason was finally receiving the treatment he so desperately needed.  

 As do most families, I went through many sleepless nights and periods of intense grief – how could this be happening?  I had lost the son that I knew and didn’t know if he would ever be back.   

Yet, unlike other illnesses, there was very little support from friends, family and the community.  I was so frightened!  I read numerous books – searching for something to tell me that my son was going to be okay.  I racked my brain and kept thinking of all the things I could have done differently to prevent such a horrible illness.  The guilt was overwhelming!!  I was so alone and couldn’t talk openly to friends about this horrible ordeal.  I felt ashamed.

It was such a relief when someone told me about the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society.  There I found other people going through very similar situations to me.  At BCSS I finally found some respite and help from caring people.  I also learned that mental illness is a biological brain disorder and there is nothing I could have done to prevent it.

The fact is that one in one hundred people will experience schizophrenia – it can happen to anybody!   Often there is no one in the family with this disorder.


During the six years since Jason’s first hospitalization I have experienced a full spectrum of emotions.  I have been through an intense amount of pain watching the effects of this illness on my beautiful son.  I have dealt with shock, sadness, guilt, grief, anger and fear to name a few.  I have also learned compassion and empathy and how to appreciate the simple things in life.  I am not judgmental of other people- I see good in every one.  Jason’s illness has helped me grow to be a better person.  Once again I have found balance in my life.  I now teach other families about mental illness and help them through very difficult times.  This is extremely satisfying.  

Jason has not needed to be hospitalized for close to two years and he remains stable.  He is compliant with his medication and understands that it is necessary for him to remain healthy.  Jason has lots of friends, many interests and is building his life again   

I am very proud of Jason.  He is an incredibly strong person to have survived all he has been through.  I feel so lucky!

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