Madeleine Steel, the 386th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, experienced 18 months of anguish when her loveable teenage son went off the rails.

All of a sudden, he started engaging in truancy, drug-taking and lawbreaking, which Maddy seemed powerless to stop. Feeling confused and ashamed, she withdrew from the people around her. She also wondered how, or if, this nightmare would ever come to an end. Eventually, a doctor speculated that Maddy’s son might have ADHD; tests later confirmed the hypothesis was correct. Maddy’s son was given medication and, immediately, his behaviour improved.

One thing that helped Maddy cope during this difficult period was a parent support group, where she was able to talk with others who were dealing with the same issues. That inspired Maddy to quit her job as a horticulturist and start a not-for-profit group, Empowering Parents in Crisis (EPIC), in 2021.

EPIC provides peer support, both in person and by phone, to parents of young people in crisis, and educates them about the options available to them.

Maddy says the most common reasons teenagers go off the rails are because they’re feeling alienated from their peers (perhaps because they’re neurodiverse) or struggling to deal with a trauma (which may have occurred years earlier but has recently bubbled to the surface).

By the time parents contact EPIC, they often feel overwhelmed by the challenge of managing their child and have lost confidence in their parenting skills. Many parents also feel isolated, because they don’t know anyone else in the same situation. So EPIC is a source of incredible emotional and practical support.

Maddy is a loving, community-minded person, who believes in putting up her hand to help others and solve problems. With EPIC, Maddy created the organisation she wished she’d been able to turn to during her darkest hour.