Anti-depressants and Brexit

brexitThis post isn’t really about Brexit. I only mentioned Brexit because I was recently interviewed on Radio 4’s PM programme by Evan Davis. The interview was sandwiched either side of the ongoing debate around Brexit. In fact, there’s so much about Brexit in the news right now, I’m surprised PM managed to fit me in at all!

So, how did I end up on Radio 4? Well, over the last few weeks, the PM programme has been looking at anti-depressants, specifically around the difficulties some people face when they stop taking this medication.

As I’ve said previously, I believe anti-depressants were key to Nora’s recovery. I don’t know how she could have come out of that dark and empty place without medication.

Before Nora fell ill, I believed – like almost every parent I’ve ever spoken to on this subject – that medicating a child with anti-depressants is ‘a very bad thing to do’. I had no scientific evidence to back up this opinion. My views were based purely on what I’d read and heard in the mainstream media.

I was wrong. And I wanted to join the ongoing debate on PM to share our (largely positive) experiences with anti-depressants.

medicationI wasn’t trying to say that prescribing anti-depressants to children is always the right thing to do. I know that too many children are being prescribed anti-depressants in the UK today. I also know that this is happening because of the shocking lack of resources available to treat children with mental health problems.

In an ideal world, every child with a debilitating mental health problem would be referred to CAMHS, where they would be assessed and get the treatment they need. This isn’t happening, because CAMHS are woefully under-funded and under-resourced.

GPs are having to fill a gap they’re simply not equipped to fill. They are being forced to make shortcuts and prescribe medication in the absence of more suitable forms of treatment. This is a dire situation that will only change when the government start to properly address the lack of funding and resources for children’s mental health.

But…despite the fact that too many children are being prescribed anti-depressants, sometimes medication is the right thing to do. It was right thing for Nora, and it’s the right thing for thousands of other children too.

Nora’s psychiatrist called me this morning, after hearing PM last night. She told me she never prescribes anti-depressants unless she’s absolutely certain it’s the right thing to do. She said she felt ‘humbled’ and ’emotional’ hearing me talk. And she said that treating children like Nora, and being part of their recovery, is what makes her job worthwhile.

recovery

 

Talking therapy

blurred-background-calling-cellphone-1426939In 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.

arms-bonding-closeness-1645634

How boring can I get?

handI haven’t written anything for a while. This is partly because I’m exhausted. The effort required to take care of my sick child is starting to take its toll. Yes, she’s a lot better than she was. But we still have a long way to go and that can feel overwhelming sometimes.

The other reason for my silence is this: for a long time, I’d simply run out of things to say. In fact, I realised earlier this year that I had become a ‘one subject’ woman.

In every conversation, and everything I write, I am constantly trying to make sense of what’s happened to Nora. Her illness is all I talk about. I see it in people’s eyes – that flicker of dread when I start speaking. I don’t blame them for this; I have become a singularly boring person.

I don’t think I’ve always been boring. I’m pretty sure, not so long ago, I could hold my own in most social situations. I make friends easily; I’ve always had lots to say and plenty of opinions on plenty of things. Now… there’s one subject on my list of things to talk about: my daughter’s illness.

I suspect that one of the reasons I keep going over the same old ground, is because there’s so much still unsaid. The things I don’t talk about because they’re too personal, or too difficult, or because I simply want to move forward. I also know these things cannot be unique to me and my situation.

I’m in regular contact with parents of children with mental health problems. All of us share the same worries and concerns for our children. All of us get so used to dealing with horrible situations, they rapidly become our new normal.

So, in an attempt to draw a line under the last year and move forward with my life, here are some of the things that become routine for parents of children with clinical depression:

  • Waking up in the middle of the night to find your child trying to stab themselves or hurt themselves in some other way
  • Never being able to go to sleep until you know your child is asleep
  • Setting your alarm for various times during the night so you can get up and check your child is still alive
  • Watching your child’s terrifying descent into a dark and desperate place, and knowing you are helpless in the face of this illness
  • Knowing your child wants to die  – really, properly wants their life to end because the anguish caused by their illness is too much to bear
  • Realising that no matter how completely shit this is for you, it’s worse for them
  • Learning to physically restrain your child because you know if you can’t do this, they will try to kill themselves

In my family’s case, the other thing that has become part of our ‘new normal’ has been the immense, overwhelming support from our neighbours and friends. We’ve had a crap time recently, but we are getting through it. We know how very lucky we are.

hope

 

New year, new beginnings

new yearWe recently said goodbye to Nora’s CAMHS* counsellor. This wonderful woman first met us when Nora was at her worst.

She was no longer speaking, had stopped eating and wasn’t able to do many of the normal day to day tasks most of us take for granted. She was self-harming and suicidal. She had been hospitalised on several occasions, and was assessed by CAMHS every time she ended up in hospital.

Despite the well-documented stories of how difficult it can be to access children’s mental health services, this wasn’t our experience. From the outset, CAMHS were available and willing to help Nora.

However, as we were already paying for Nora to be treated privately, we had to make a choice: stay with the private service or move to CAMHS. Initially, we chose to stay within the private sector.

ambulance.jpgWhat changed our mind? A number of factors, including an afternoon of confusion following one of Nora’s terrible ‘meltdowns’. Normally, I was able to manage these episodes. On this day, things got so bad I ended up dialling emergency services, who sent an ambulance to the house. The paramedics immediately decided that Nora needed to be hospitalised. There was just one problem…

Because Nora was being treated privately, the paramedics didn’t know what hospital Nora should be taken to. They called our nearest NHS hospital, who told them Nora needed to be taken to the private hospital where she was being treated as an outpatient. But when I called the private hospital, they told me they couldn’t see her as it was an emergency and they didn’t deal with emergencies.

Several phone calls later, we ended up at an NHS hospital in a nearby town. We stayed there for several nights, where Nora was – once more – assessed by CAMHS. It was at this point that we decided to switch from the private sector to the NHS.

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure this decision saved Nora’s life.

The care we’ve had under CAMHS has been second-to-none. During the worst of Nora’s illness, we had mental health workers calling to our house daily, providing much-needed support. There were people I could call, twenty-four hours a day, when I was worried about my daughter. We had a team of caring, dedicated people, all doing their best to keep my daughter alive.

This was very different to the private sector where I had one phone number for one psychiatrist. In all the time we were under her care, she never once returned any of my phone calls.

Since that first meeting with our CAMHS counsellor, Nora’s recovery has been remarkable. This is largely thanks to her dedicated CAMHS carers, who do one of the most important jobs there is.

Lack of access to children’s mental health services has been widely document. I’ve blogged about it here previously. Understandably, parents who cannot get help for their children feel angry and frustrated.

These parents are right to be angry. In the UK today, three in four children with a diagnosable mental health disorder do not get access to the support they need. For those lucky few who do get allocated a service, the average waiting time is almost two months (and far longer in some parts of the country).

But we can’t blame CAMHS workers for the woeful state of children’s mental health services. Instead, the blame lies with the people making decisions around how public funds should be allocated.

Today in the UK, only 0.7% of the NHS budget is spent on children’s mental health. Without adequate funding and resources, CAMHS are simply unable to support the growing number of children and adolescents being referred to them.

young minds.jpgIf you care about children’s mental health, and you agree our government needs to do more to support essential mental health services, now is the time to act. Lobby your local MP or sign the Young Minds’ petition for a new era for young people’s mental health.

Let’s not stop telling our elected politicians they need to do more to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of future generations.

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*CAMHS stands for Children and Adolescent Mental Health services