Samantha Whittick, now 21 is thriving in her current lifestyle. She is happily studying Law and Criminology at University, she lives with her boyfriend and they love attending music concerts together.
Six years ago things looked very different when Samantha tried to take her own life at the age of 15. Samantha’s mental state at the time was not due to her own, but her Father’s mental health issues linked to his autism, which at the time, was undiagnosed. Young women between the ages of 16-24 are one of the most ‘at risk’ groups with mental health issues being more prevalent in mid to late adolescent females than any other demographic group***. Samantha was 15 and juggling adolescence, a change in friendship groups, and many of the common transitions that occur, but this, partnered with the difficulties she had with her father, put Samantha under significant mental distress.
Samantha continues; “Typically childhood and adolescence can be a time of change and transition from starting school, changes in friendship groups, going through puberty, exam pressures, moving house, sexual maturation and development, including sexual orientation, transition to university or work. Many of these transitional experiences will happen to most teenagers but for me, growing up became a complete nightmare. My Dad over reacted all the time, to everything I ever did. If I was a minute late, if I left dirty cups in the kitchen sink...His reaction was always extreme and disproportionate, no matter what the incident. Big or small, to him, everything was a huge problem and I was let feeling unloved, confused and alone.”
Matching her father’s expectations was impossible. As she grew up and wanted to spread her wings, Samantha in particular felt like a failure around her father. He was incapable of seeing her point of view and was uncompromising. A state of mind would take him over, leaving him to survive in the only way he knew how; to self harm. He would hit himself to the point of feeling light headed and nauseas, in front of his children.
Autism in itself is not a mental illness, but Samantha’s Dad Arsenal, (who changed his name via deed poll at the age of 19) like so many others, suffered from the associated difficulties of anxiety, depression and OCD.
Following Samantha’s suicide attempt the family had counselling. The Clinical Psychologist was quick to send Arsenal for referral after learning of his rigid routines and uncompromising behaviour. Following assessment, 6 Months later, Arsenal was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
After diagnosis the family started to find their way, tiny step by tiny step. Arsenal received Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and had regular support. As a lifelong condition, Arsenal now sets himself daily challenges helping him overcome his desire for discipline and exactitude.
From being a disengaged, emotionally absent man, Arsenal and Samantha now have a relationship based on honesty, mutual respect, admiration, and love. Their bond is very deep and they support each other through all life’s challenges. Both Samantha and Arsenal are now thriving despite life’s challenges and because of the incredible support they have received and the support they continue to give each other. Arsenal is now a Support Worker at the charity who supported him, Autism Wessex, using his own experiences to help and support others.
Samantha concludes; “Five years ago I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me I would have any kind of relationship with my Dad. We hit rock bottom and I felt so let down by him. Thanks to his diagnosis, as a family we all have far better awareness of what he needs and he is aware of how his autism has impacted on us. His diagnosis was a life changing turning point for us all, and we have embraced it and each other to find a better relationship with ourselves and together.”
Karen Wilmshurst, Advocacy Services Manager comments; “Children can cope well with short-term emotional and behavioural problems experienced by their parents; however, more severe and long-term parental mental health problems can have a significant negative impact on every aspect of a child’s development. It is important to note, however, that this is not to say that all children of parents who experience mental health problems will develop a problem themselves. The impact of autism can be profound on both the individual with the condition and those close to them, such as family members. Autism Wessex’ help is varied and far reaching. Our Information and Advice service is available to anyone. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for advice and support,”
Samantha concludes; “I think my Dad and I are where we are today due to a mixture of things. My Dad became much more aware of his condition and talked to people about how he felt. I came to terms with that and grew into my own person. Dad seems at peace with who he is and seems much more content in his own environment. I also don’t think we would be as close as we are now if I hadn’t moved out when I did. Our relationship began to repair itself and we were able to see each other as and when we pleased. We had to ease into it and it’s as if we have been reacquainted. I think my Dad accepts there are things about me he doesn’t understand, and me with him. And that’s OK. We accept and love each other and we are both now thriving! I am 100% the happiest I have ever been.”
** CfPS – Difference in Mind. Scrutinising Child and Adolscent Mental Health Services for children with Autism.