In a recent post, I wrote about how Nora’s illness has become my single topic of conversation. The truth is, talking – and writing – about everything that’s happened has helped me enormously.
I started this blog because I wanted to share my experiences with other parents. I believe it’s important to speak openly about mental health. Having a child with a mental illness isn’t some dirty little secret to be ashamed of. I am immensely proud of my daughter and her strength in the face of this terrible illness.
But you know what? Parenting a child with a mental illness is hard work. Too often, it can feel lonely and overwhelming. I am tired of trying to ‘explain’ Nora’s illness to people who insist there must be a ‘reason’ for what’s happened to her.
However, for every conversation I’ve had with someone who simply doesn’t get it, I’ve had half a dozen with people who do. Many – but not all – of these are parents of children with mental health problems. Parents, like me, who have felt lonely and misunderstood as they’ve struggled to come to terms with what’s happened to them.
I’m often asked what advice I’d give to a parent whose child is struggling with depression. There are lots of things that help, and I’ve written about some of these in an earlier post. The thing I haven’t written about is how helpful it is to simply talk about what you’re going through.
It seems obvious to say that talking helps. But so many parents struggle for too long in silence. Confusion, fear of being judged, worries about betraying their child are all reasons why some parents don’t feel comfortable talking about their child’s illness.
In that sense, I’ve been lucky. My family and friends (too many to mention but please know that each one of you has made the last year bearable) have been there and listened while I have talked, and talked, and talked… and then talked some more.
I’ve also found a remarkable online community of people, and I’m often overwhelmed by the support I’ve had from people who barely know me. Again, there are too many people to list them all, but I must give a special shout out to Ida Väisänen (funny, brave and all round lovely), Ashley Leia Peterson and Carol Ann. For anyone wanting a better understanding of mental illness, these women write great blogs.
Finally, if you are parent and you feel there’s no one you can talk to, I would strongly recommend the new parent to parent service offered by mental health charity, Young Minds. This service didn’t exist when we were going through the worst of it with Nora, but I wish I’d had something like this. It’s a chance for parents who are struggling to have a chat with someone who has ‘been there’ and really understands what it’s like to care for a child with a mental illness.
Young Minds is a great charity, that does a huge amount to support young people with mental health problems. Alongside the parent to parent service, they also run a parents’ helpline which is available to offer advice to parents and carers worried about a child or young person under 25.
The most important thing to remember is this: whoever you are, whatever problems your child is having – you are not alone. Talk to a friend or family member that you trust, join one of the online communities on Facebook or Twitter, read mental health blogs, or call Young Minds. Help and support is there. I promise.