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Mental health and autism, one teen's tragic story

Jarrett with computer (2)

Photo of Jarrett Borstscher and his "broken computer." Borstscher, who has Asperger syndrome and catatonia, was found dead in September. (Family photo)

At last week's York University announcement of a new $2 million research chair in autism and mental health, MP Mike Lake (PC--Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont) read a heart-breaking letter from an 18-year-old Edmonton teen with autism suffering from mental health problems.

Jarrett Borstscher went missing from his parents' home in late September and was found dead in the North Saskatchewan River several days later.

Borstscher had Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism as well as catatonia, a condition that causes sufferers to fall into a trance-like state. As Lake noted, adolescents with high-functioning autism are acutely aware they are different from their peers and this can cause depression and other mental health problems.

Borstscher had been in hospital receiving youth psychiatric services for about 18 months but was discharged in June. He was awaiting transfer to adult services when he went missing.

A few weeks before Borstscher died, he wrote about what was happening to him and his parents encouraged Lake to share it in the hope that it would help others:

"I am a broken computer.

"Some of the circuits in me may still contain useful memory . . . while other circuits were simply blown. I'm there, just tangled up. The RAM has difficulty. The screen may display little or nothing at all, though nonetheless there is some activity.

"I was once an explorer of the internet: gathering information and useful knowledge from all areas in life to process and become stored... Useful data may still be looming in my old dusted internal hard drive circuits, though their access is largely cut off by fractures in the circuitry that connects to it...

"How did I become broken? It all started with the screen freezing, and went downhill to a crashed, bricked hard drive. Though a good shock reversed the brick situation, the CPU functions at lower capacity than before and requires continuous maintenance. Slower processing speed and frequent errors are examples of the aftereffect. Hopefully I will still be useful in some way to the world.

"Explanation:  I'm mentally unstable as a broken computer would be unstable. I have catatonia and had catatonic seizures which are like frozen, bricked computers. The freeze (something that made me stop going to school) started at the end of Grade 10, and I got into a fully catatonic state halfway through Grade 11. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at a hospital has jolted me out of my catatonic state, but I require medication to rehabilitate from the life-altering event.

"I have anger blow-ups like blown circuitry. I often went to video game tournaments with a philosophy based off Sun Tzu: The Art of War.  My "RAM" is bad in that I always forget the right thing to say until it's too late, as if glitches and errors occur in my brain.  Nonetheless I have nostalgic memories of the past, like spurts of old knowledge from within cut-off circuitry.

"In the past, I often browsed every corner of the internet to learn about science, human culture, geography and more; I also liked to read scientific studies about human health and nutrition, which all relates being “useful data.”

"My focus and concentration ability is severely hindered; slow processing speed. Medications alter me to the point of not being myself: before I was catatonic, I was fine and doing well all through Grade 10. I hope the dreams I once had will still be possible to reach.”

Lake said he hopes the new five-year research position awarded to Jonathan Weiss, an assistant professor in York's  psychology department, will help others like Borstscher.


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It's heartbreaking to read this. We need read more, and learn more to be able to help and accept...

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