A desperate mum has described the terrifying moment she had to fight with her nine-year-old son to stop him hanging himself while screaming that he wanted to die.
Leanne Foote, 39, was so worried about Drew that she went for nights on end without sleep so she could keep an eye on him.
Though it was a struggle to get medical help for Drew, who is now 11, he is now receiving expert therapy and Leanne believes their crisis is over – for the time being. But the courageous mum is now reaching out to other families, to offer support.
Drew’s ordeal was even discussed in parliament, as his MP pleaded for more money for children’s mental health services.
Mum-of-four, Leanne, said: “There is nothing so frightening and challenging as hearing your own child say that they want to die.
“Drew would scream at me that his ‘head was full’ and he couldn’t take it any more.
“I felt so isolated, sitting up, all night every night, watching him, terrified he might try to hurt himself.
“I felt like I’d failed as a mum, like it was my fault somehow.
“His condition has affected not just me but my other children too. My relationship broke down, some of my friends drifted away; they just couldn’t cope with the way Drew was.”
Leanne suspected Drew had problems right from his birth in January 2009. He screamed a lot and was a grizzly, unsettled baby.
Leanne, who also has two sons aged 20 and nine, and a 19-year-old daughter, says: “I had other children so I wasn’t a first-time mum. I thought he would grow out of it.”
But by the time he started school, Drew was already showing extreme behaviour. He was excluded aged five for biting and attacking another child.
He did not mix well with other children and had legendary meltdowns which caused one teacher to walk out of her job – on the first day.
Leanne, from Cumbria, says: “I was mortified. My other children went through school without a single problem and this was such a shock for me.
“The school and the teachers were wonderful; they were so supportive. They were sure Drew had autism but we had to wait a long time for funding for help.
“In the meantime, I was left alone to cope.
“Drew had major meltdowns and I was exhausted, looking after him and my other three children.
“I was so tired; I couldn’t even hold a conversation with anyone. My older kids had to step in and help. I couldn’t even think about having a boyfriend because it would never work. It wasn’t fair on anyone.
“Drew was a lovely little boy with a great sense of humour and mischief, but he really struggled with anxiety and he would go into panic at the smallest thing.
“He would only eat three or four simple foods; anything else would send him into a spiral.
He had to have his own bedroom in case he lashed out at his little brother, which meant the other kids were piled in together.”
Aged eight, Drew was officially diagnosed with autism.
Over summer 2018, aged nine, he began threatening to kill himself.
Leanne says: “It was dreadful; he’d say his head was full and he wanted to die and he was going to kill himself. He literally could not cope with what was in his own head.
“One day, he had worked himself up into a state and that was when he started wrapping the hoover lead around his throat.
“I had to fight with him to get it off him.
“Even then, he talked about doing it again and I was terrified he would find a way. I watched him all the time, even at night.”
Drew was referred for mental health help but he waited over a year before a place became available. He is now receiving therapy and is also attending a specialist school where he is settled and happy.
Leanne says: “He is much better. He is happy and he adores his siblings. He is a loving, funny, gorgeous little boy. We went on holiday for the first time ever recently and Drew had so much fun.
“He struggles with friendships, he always will, but he is learning to cope with that.
“He has a mental age of four, and he cannot read or write, but he can communicate.
“I know we will face more challenges in the future and I worry about what life holds for a boy like Drew. I am speaking out for all those children who are in some way different – they need our help and our understanding.
“For now, I feel lucky, because life is going well for my son. But he and others like him will always need support.”
* Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected]