It’s almost a year since Nora’s illness started to manifest itself. Since then, many people – some who’ve never met my daughter – have offered their opinions on what might have ‘caused’ her catastrophic mental breakdown.
I’ve blogged before about people’s need to find reasons for mental illness. The problem is, mental health is a complicated business and trying to identify the causes of mental health problems is a tricky business.
Having lived through her illness with Nora, I’d like to think I’m better placed than most to understand why she became so terrible ill. I know we may never fully understand what triggered her illness, but we understand a hell of a lot more than we did a year ago.
I believe Nora’s illness was caused by a combination of:
- Escalating anxiety, triggered by several factors including undiagnosed dyslexia and high emotional intelligence which makes her overly sensitive to other people’s feelings
- The challenges all young people face finding quiet moments in a world that never switches off
- A genetic predisposition to mental illness
All too often, I’ve seen people wriggle uncomfortably when I mention this last one – a genetic predisposition. People don’t like to think of mental illness as something that can’t be ‘controlled’, but the truth is, mental illness – like all other illnesses – can strike anyone, at any time.
Yes, we can adopt ways of living that can build resilience and reduce our vulnerability to mental health problems, but the best efforts in the world won’t always make us immune.
In Nora’s case, she was a confident, happy, popular girl before she fell ill. She wasn’t being bullied, she wasn’t being socially excluded and – I’d like to think – she was part of a loving family.
But like I said, it’s complicated. Last week in the supermarket, a woman I barely knew told me my daughter’s illness was caused by a combination of Wifi signals in the air and the additives in processed food. I disagreed with her at the time, but what do I know? Maybe she’s onto something…
So, in the spirit of openness and sharing, here are some of the ‘reasons’ well-meaning people have put forward over the last year to ‘explain’ my daughter’s illness:
- Wifi signals
- Cyber bulling
- Other forms of bullying
- Lack of exercise (Nora has always been fit and active but, again, what do I know?)
- Food allergies/intolerances
- Social media
- Undiagnosed autism
Before I finish, a note on social media. All of us – adults and children – struggle to find peace in today’s world. The constant access to everything – emails, social media, internet – is exhausting.
As a society, we simply aren’t doing enough to help our children navigate this new world they’re growing up in. We need to find ways to help children switch off and have down time. However, to make a sweeping statement that ‘social media causes mental illness’ is over simplifying a far more complicated situation.
In our house – as a direct result of Nora’s illness – we have started switching off our Wifi for two hours every night, and no one is allowed any screen time, either, during these two hours. Scary, huh?
I don’t know if this will help my kids find moments of silence in today’s busy world, but I hope it might do.