Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
‘Looping’: when his [Abdulrahman] brain circles back to an idea over and over again and then that idea becomes very rewarding and gratifying for him, and it fills a part of his cognitive functioning, his thinking. – Dr. Porterfield
From a young age, Abdulrahman suffered from mental illnesses. His birth was traumatic due to a severe uterine rupture suffered by his mother which required surgery and as a result a loss of oxygen for some time. During his adolescence, he began to show increasing psychological problems leading to multiple hospitalizations. Abdulrahman struggled with his mental health issues which made it difficult for him to connect with his family, school peers, and the community. Some of the numerous symptoms he experienced included lack of sleep, depression and suicidal thoughts.
His most consistent tendency was to fixate compulsively on certain topics. Dr. Porterfield, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, who worked with Abdulrahman since January 2017, referred to it as ‘looping’: when the brain circles back to an idea repeatedly, fulfilling a part of one’s cognitive thinking. Dr. Porterfield recognized the looping pattern in Abdulrahman’s life which began with “the solar system, soccer, computers, and then sadly, sadly, and tragically, drugs — introduced to him when he was 14 , and which took hold.”
‘Looping’: when his [Abdulrahman] brain circles back to an idea over and over again and then that idea becomes very rewarding and gratifying for him, and it fills a part of his cognitive functioning, his thinking.
Throughout his life, his family sought treatment for his serious mental health and subsequent substance abuse issues. The constant search for treatment and movement in various facilities at such a young age had an impact on his mid-adolescence. In March 2014, Abdulrahman was admitted to the Kuwaiti Center of Psychiatric Health, discharged with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and polysubstance, but readmitted several times after. In July of 2014, he was admitted to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada where he expressed thoughts of self-harming (i.e. suicide) and auditory hallucinations. In late 2014, he was admitted to Egypt’s Alriyada Center for Psychiatric Medicine and Addiction Treatment where he spent 7 months. At this point, Alriyada diagnosed Abdulrahman with bipolar emotional disorder, fits of obsession, and fits of depression with psychotic features. During these fits, he is very chatty, does not sleep much, is not aware of himself, and does not abide by his promises and statements.
Symptoms of the disease [fits of obsession] are expressed in the buying obsession, a lot of joking, chatting. During these fits he has little sleep of 3 to 4 hours. He is not aware of himself and does not abide by his promises and statements.
From a young age, Abdulrahman suffered from bullying and peer pressure in Kuwait. In primary school, he experienced what he called “nationality prejudice”, as he, an Egyptian, did not fit in with his fellow peers who were Kuwaiti. Canada provided Abdulrahman with a new start where he enjoyed his new school and made friends, stating that “the students all treated each other the same.”
But like many youths, Abdulrahman experimented with drugs. He was about 13/14 in Canada when his history of substance abuse began. Due to his looping condition, he began doing marijuana after he had a school project about the impacts of drugs (he read about the advantages of marijuana use), which then led him to try a variety of other drugs. Abdulrahman and his family moved back to Kuwait to prevent more substance usage.
It is not an exaggeration to say that inhalant use in this undercontrolled, obsessive boy was like pouring gasoline on a flame.
Once he was released from the hospital, his substance usage resumed and his mental health deteriorated. Thus, he was put back in the hospital until his parents decided to bring him to CAMH in Canada for better inpatient treatment. Ensuing rehab and treatment in Canada, he and his family went back to Kuwait but the mental health problems and the same substance use (mostly marijuana and inhalants with butane) continued. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at Egypt’s Alriyada Center Hospital where he spent 7 months, he and his parents realized the positive mental health progression and lack of substance usage, and thus permanently moved back to Canada to start grade 11.
Although the family witnessed tremendous beneficial growth in Abdulrahman, the side effects of the drug he was taking for treatment negatively affected his social presence. He felt judged by his classmates because of his weight gain and reported to be tired and sleepy in class. Thus he decided to stop taking the medication and his parents witnessed the ensuing drastic changes in his behaviour.
At this juncture, Abdulrahman’s behaviour became increasingly argumentative, irritable, started staying up at night, isolated himself, and spoke quickly. His family said he was frequently experiencing mood instability, obsessed with certain Islamic topics like whether or not coffee was permissible and anxious to pray exactly on time. In December 2015, he had a panic attack and was sent to a local hospital. By January 2016, he was socially isolated and dropped out of school. His parents attempted to sneak in the medication in his diet after realizing he had stopped taking them. As his parents were extremely worried about his condition and isolation, they had to pay out of their resources to see a psychologist as they were put on a waiting list by CAMH. The earliest appointment that his parents got him was in May of that year.
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"What makes this story even more disturbing is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) knowingly participated in this sting with the FBI. They unlawfully obtained Abdulrahman’s medical records that described his mental health vulnerabilities and provided them to the FBI to better manipulate this damaged youth.
This raises serious human rights concerns of discriminatory investigations, targeting vulnerable youths such as Abdulrahman, who had no previous history of violence or criminality, until drawn in by a U.S. government actively involved in developing the plot, persuading and pressuring the target to participate."