School’s out…forever

classroomWe’ve taken the scary decision to home school Nora. In fairness, this decision is easier for us than it is for most parents. She hasn’t been at school for over a year so it’s not a huge change.

She is getting an education of sorts (provided by the Local Authority). As soon as we inform the school we’re taking Nora off the register, we’ll lose that support. But it’s not like we’re moving from having her in school for seven hours every day.

Even still, deciding to home educate is a huge step. I’ve always been in favour of mainstream schooling. Until now, I’ve never understood why some parents would choose to take their children out of school, believing they can do a better job than qualified teachers.

School-topI am still friends with the people I went to school with and those friendships are as important to me today as they were over thirty years ago. I’ve watched Nora’s brother form similar friendships, and I’m sure many of those will last throughout his life just as mine have done. It’s what I’d hoped for Nora too.

But you know what? I’ve realised the school system simply doesn’t suit all children. And that’s not always because of friendship issues.

Many people assume (wrongly) that Nora’s mental health problems were the result of bullying. She has never been bullied. She was hugely popular in primary school and seemed to have a lot of friends during her short time in secondary school. So much so that, a year later, she has managed to maintain those friendships despite her absence from the classroom and playground.

So, if it’s not bullying, what is it?

For Nora (and, I suspect, many other children) the focus in too many secondary schools on discipline and academic output doesn’t work. In Nora’s case, I’d go further and say it’s hugely detrimental.

My daughter is creative. She writes poetry, she creates wonderful art, she loves acting. She is intellectually curious – her favourite subjects are Philosophy, Psychology and Politics. It’s no longer possible to study any of these subjects at GCSE level.

Nora is dyslexic. This makes it difficult for her to focus and concentrate (and, therefore, learn) in a class of 30 children. Her dyslexia becomes noticeably worse when she’s anxious. Being in a classroom, struggling to understand what’s going on (or trying to study a subject she has zero interest in), makes her anxious. The more anxious she becomes, the more she struggles to read and write. And so on….

I had always hoped Nora would go back to school at some point. It’s taken me a while to get my head around the whole idea of homeschooling. But now I’ve started to think about it properly, I’m excited. I’m terrified too, of course. I have no idea how I’ll manage home schooling around work.

But we’ll work it out. Like me, my husband never envisaged we’d end up being ‘home school parents’. But he can also see that home schooling Nora is the right thing to do.

We got through the last year when our beautiful daughter became so ill we thought we’d lose her. If we can do that, we can do anything. I know we’ll work it out, somehow. And I know, beyond any doubt, we’ve made the right decision for Nora.

After everything she’s been through, that’s the only thing that matters.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

A diary of depression

girl on beachThis time last year, Nora’s illness was only beginning. We had no idea how bad things would become. We never could have imagined that our eleven-year-old daughter would reach a point where she was so ill she wanted to die.

For some time, I’ve wanted to write about how Nora’s illness progressed, but I’ve never been able to get the words down. It’s always been too painful.

But…I want other parents – who are going through something similar – to know that they’re not alone.

So, I’ve finally written something. I hope it helps.

Month one

Nora’s anxiety has become unmanageable. The only way I can get her into school if we go for long walks beforehand. This means getting up early and walking for up to two hours before school.

I know that Nora’s already in a dark place, and she needs help. Through our GP, we’ve got a referral for a private consultation with a psychiatrist. Apparently, Nora isn’t ill enough for a CAMHS referral.

Month two

The psychiatrist thinks Nora may be suffering from depression, although this condition is – apparently – extremely rare with children as young as Nora (she is eleven).

Because of Nora’s age, the psychiatrist rules out anti-depressants, and recommends a ten-week course of CBT counselling. My husband and I are relieved. It seems inconceivable to medicate our eleven-year-old daughter with anti-depressants.

Month three

The CBT sessions aren’t helping. Nora continues to deteriorate and I suspect the counsellor doesn’t really know how best to treat her.

Nora’s school have suggested that trying – and failing – to keep Nora in school is counter-productive. The counsellor disagrees and thinks we should keep sending her in.

We take the school’s advice, because it feels like the right thing to do. Nora stops going to school.

By now, Nora is self-harming and suicidal. More than once, we’ve ended up in hospital, where we spend nights on ‘suicide watch’. Nora undergoes several psychiatric evaluations. These confirm what we now know: Nora is suffering a severe depressive episode.

Nora’s psychiatrist prescribes anti-depressants. We are relieved. It’s clear Nora needs more than weekly counselling sessions to get her better.

girlMonth four

Nora has stopped speaking. Completely. The only time I hear her voice is during her terrible meltdowns, when the weight of what she is enduring simply becomes too much.  These happen several times a day.

Following one particularly bad episode, we end up back in hospital. We are given a private room, because Nora’s meltdowns are so upsetting to the other children on the ward.

For the third time, Nora is assessed by CAMHS, who tell us they can’t treat Nora while she’s being seen privately.

We have to make a choice. The psychiatrist’s secretary calls me and tells me Nora will get much better treatment under CAMHS. I take her advice and we end the private treatment.

Month five

We are now under the care of CAMHS. We now have a team of people looking after us. There are people I can phone at any time of the day and night. Mental health professionals visit us at home several times a week. We have a new psychiatrist and a brilliant counsellor.

Time and again, these professionals tell me they have never encountered a child with symptoms as severe as Nora’s. This is frightening, but also oddly reassuring because I know she is – indeed – very, very ill.

This month is Nora’s birthday. Her friends come to visit with presents. She can’t speak to them, but they all give her hugs and I’m glad they’ve come. They cry, because they haven’t seen her since she fell ill.

She is pale, gaunt and silent. She has lost so much weight, her friends look like giants beside her.

Month six

Nora’s CAMHS team tell me they are ‘flummoxed’ and simply don’t know how to treat her. If they cannot come up with a plan soon, the next step will be to admit her to a psychiatric unit. This is a specialised unit for teenagers with severe mental health problems. Typically, children in this unit are aged from fourteen to eighteen. Nora is twelve.

We are told Nora will have to be fed through a tube if we cannot get her to eat.

Month seven

We have a care plan! It’s pretty basic but it feels like a huge step forward. It involves Nora doing things like getting out of bed by herself, eating regularly, getting dressed and getting fresh air each day.

Nora doesn’t think she will be able to do any of these things. She locks herself in the bathroom and tries to cut her wrists. Luckily, with the help of a neighbour, I’m able to knock the door down before she cuts herself too badly.

Although this is awful, it’s also a turning point. Gradually, we see tiny signs of improvement. And then something wonderful happens. Nora starts speaking again. Whispers at first, just a few words every now and then.

But every single word is precious. Over the course of her illness, I’d forgotten what her voice sounded like; I would watch videos I’d recorded before she fell ill, simply so I could hear her speaking.

Today (one year since the beginning of Nora’s illness)

Nora is speaking, eating, exercising and engaging with life. She sees her friends. She goes to the gym and goes for long runs most days. She writes poetry, and takes acting classes. She is rehearsing for the lead role in a play.

We don’t know what the future will hold but, then again, none of us know that.

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Make a real difference this Christmas

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Four months ago today, I wrote the Nora’s story page of this site.

Re-reading this now, it seems extraordinary to think how ill Nora was, and how rapidly she is recovering.

Four months ago, my beautiful daughter was in the grip of a crippling depression. She had stopped speaking (she was completely mute for several months), she was unable to get out of bed or get dressed without help, and she had lost so much weight we thought she’d have to be fed through a tube.

Nora’s anguish was so unbearable she didn’t want to continue living. More than once, she was admitted to hospital after serious suicide attempts.

It was a terrible time for our family but, even during the worst of it, we never stopped believing Nora would get better.

Four months on, and Nora’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. She is no longer suicidal or self-harming. The symptoms of her psycho-motor retardation are gone. She is speaking again, having fun and engaging with life.

Since I started this blog, I’ve met so many parents taking care of children with mental health problems. Parents, like me, who are struggling to deal with the challenges of supporting a child with a mental illness. Parents who desperately need help that simply isn’t available.

It’s no secret that the lack of resourcing and funding for children’s mental health in the UK is disgraceful. This is something I’ve blogged about previously, and it’s a topic I’m sure I’ll come back to again.

The problem isn’t just with children’s mental health, either. One in four people in the UK are reportedly suffering from some form of mental illness. Yet, all too often, these people are not getting the help they need.

It’s left to mental health charities to fill the gaps in mental health provision. Yet these charities, too, are stretched to their limits.

That’s why I am asking all readers of this blog to support this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity appeal, which is raising much-needed funds for three mental health charities:

  • Changing Faces – which provides advice and support for people with a visible difference through counselling, networks and skin camouflage services.
  • Young Minds – a charity that offers a vital lifeline to thousands of parents and carers to prevent young people from coming to harm.
  • The Fire Fighters charity – which offers psychological support to firefighters in the wake of major incidents.

You may not have suffered mental health problems yourself, but I guarantee you know someone who has. Mental health charities offer an essential service to families and individuals who desperately need help.

Please help these charities to carry on doing the great work they do.

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Causes of mental illness?

depressed girlIt’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
  • Hormones
  • 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…

wifiSo, 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

social mediaBefore 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.

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Things I wish I’d known

girlOver the last year, I’ve learned a huge amount about mental illness in general, and childhood depression in particular. I’m not an expert, but I know a hell of a lot more than I did before my daughter’s illness.

In a recent post, I listed the top five things I’ve learned about supporting a child with depression.

Today is World Mental Health Day, which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.

So, to mark World Mental Health Day, I’ve decided to share the five things I wish I’d known earlier about mental illness.

Depression is a terrible illness

Before Nora fell ill, my knowledge of depression was limited. I knew it was an illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. I vaguely understood that depressed people ‘felt down’ and ‘lacked energy’ and sometimes needed medication to help get their lives back on track.

I had no idea it could be a life-threatening illness that, in extreme cases, literally sucks the life out of its victims.

I hadn’t heard about psycho-motor retardation, a terrible depression-related condition that slows down your mind and body, making even the simplest thoughts or movements seem impossible.

At her worst, Nora lost the ability to speak. But she was always able to communicate, using pen and paper to tell me what she was experiencing. This post about depression, captures how she described the illness.

Children with depression hear voices

Did you know this? I sure as hell didn’t.

By the time Nora told me she was hearing voices, she was already very ill. We didn’t know what was happening, or why she’d got ill so quickly.

Like, I suspect, many parents who don’t know much about mental illness, I assumed hearing voices was a ‘very bad thing indeed’. Turns out it’s not half as bad as I imagined.

Of course, it’s very scary for the child who is hearing the voices. But, according to Nora’s psychiatrist, 90% of the children she sees hear voices at some point during their illness.

Anti-depressants save lives

I’ve banged on at length about this topic, so I won’t go on about it again here.

I know some people have concerns about giving anti-depressants to children. At one stage, I might have been one of those parents. I’m not now.

It’s okay to talk about suicide

What parent wants to discuss suicide with their eleven-year-old child? Not me, that’s for sure. Or so I thought until the first time Nora tried to take her own life. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what you should – and shouldn’t – do when your child has suicidal thoughts.

Again, suicide is something I’ve spoken about in earlier posts, if you want to know about  what I’ve learned.

The most important thing to know is this: if your child tells you they wish they were dead, take them seriously. Speak to them; find out exactly what they’re thinking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Being open – and pragmatic – about suicidal thoughts might just save your child’s life.

You’re stronger than you think you are

As the wise man, Kevin Bacon once said, you’re only ever as happy as your least happy child.

Like most parents, I’ve always assumed I would simply fall apart if something terrible happened to one of my children. In fact, this didn’t happen (well, it hasn’t happened so far…).

Yes, it’s been a terrible year. Over a few months, we watched our daughter change from a happy, confident, cheeky girl to someone who was so ill she was no longer able to speak or dress herself or do any of the basic tasks we take for granted.

We didn’t understand what was happening to our child. And we weren’t alone. The mental health experts working with Nora were also at a loss. We were repeatedly told they had never encountered a child with such severe symptoms. She was so ill, it took a team of mental health experts two months to agree the best way to treat her.

It was the worst of times for our family. But, somehow, we got through it. As Nora gets better, we are stronger as a family than we’ve ever been.

For that, and so much else, I am immensely grateful.

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Five things I’ve learned

lonely boyI’ve been slightly overwhelmed recently by the number of people I’ve met – online and in person – caring for someone with mental health problems.

These conversations have made me realise that I know quite a bit more about anxiety and depression than I did nine months ago, when Nora first became ill.

So, today’s blog looks at five important things I’ve learned about supporting a child with anxiety or depression.

Don’t wait to get help

This may seem obvious, but it’s not always. As parents, our first instinct  is to protect our children. We don’t want them to be ill.

Sometimes, when they start self-harming, stop eating or tell you they want to die, we don’t take this seriously. We tell them to stop self-harming. We sanction them for not eating properly. We tell them they don’t really want to die.

We try to address the problem with logic. But mental health problems aren’t logical.

Self-harming, suicidal thoughts, refusing to go to school, problems eating and sleeping… these are all signs your child needs help.

Educate yourself

This is important. No matter what support you’re getting from CAMHS or other mental health services, you – and you alone – will be the person spending most time with your sick child.

When Nora first fell ill, I believed I could ‘fix’ her through the sheer strength of my love and my determination that she would be well again. I approached her illness with the logical, problem-solving approach I use to tackle most of life’s problems.

Of course, unconditional love is hugely important. Your child needs to know you love them, no matter what. But they also need to know that you understand enough about their illness to help them get them through this dark and difficult time.

The more you learn about your child’s condition, the better placed you’ll be to give them the help they need.

If you’re unsure where to start, take a look at the website for mental health charity Young Minds. They have a wealth of resources, as well as a Parents Helpline you can call for help and advice.

You can also check out the resources section of this blog  for books and online material I’ve found most useful.

tabletsAnti-depressants aren’t always ‘a bad thing’

Nora has been taking Fluoxetine for six months now. She’ll need to continue taking the medication for a further six months, at least. Anti-depressants saved Nora’s life. We wouldn’t be where we are today without it.

I know that anti-depressants aren’t right for everyone. Finding the right medication, at the right dosage, takes time. And all the time you’re playing around with different levels and types of medication, you are acutely aware that you’re giving your child a drug that has horrific side effects.

In our case, persistence paid off. Once we got the medication right, Nora’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous.

Of course, medication alone isn’t enough. In Nora’s case, her recovery is down to a combination of medication, a counsellor who understands her complex issues, and a loving, supportive family.

If a psychiatrist prescribes anti-depressants for your child, that’s because they believe medication is your child’s best hope of recovery right now. You should listen to what the psychiatrist is telling you. It may be, that you try medication and find it doesn’t work. On the other hand, it might just save your child’s life.

Recovery takes time

Nora had been taking anti-depressants for about eight weeks before we saw the first early signs of improvement. At first, the changes were tiny. She started responding when I hugged her, putting her arms on mine for a moment before dropping them again. She started sleeping again. And then, one morning, a miracle happened – she got out of bed and came downstairs without anyone helping her.

Of course, the next morning – and others after that – she needed help again. But there were also many more mornings when she was able to do it alone. And since then, things have continued to improve.

But…

It’s taken nine months to get this far, and she’s still not ‘better’. She hasn’t gone back to school, she still has terrible meltdowns on a regular basis, and she struggles to do many of the day to day tasks she used to take for granted.

The key thing, however, is this: she’s getting better. Your child will too. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.

It’s no one’s ‘fault’ your child is ill

We all know that mental illness can be triggered by traumatic events in a person’s life. But often people fall ill and there’s no obvious reason why.

If you’ve been a relatively okay parent, if your child’s life up to this point has been pretty uneventful, then the chances are this illness would have happened to them sooner or later.

It’s hard not to blame yourself when your child’s behaviour suddenly changes. Sometimes, it’s also hard not to blame your child.

The line between ‘bad behaviour’ and ‘behaviour caused by anxiety or depression’ is blurred, at best. How can parents know a child’s bad behaviour is deliberate and when it’s not? The simple answer is, we can’t.

But, we should remember this: when a child has anxiety or depression, they’re often unable to help the way they’re behaving.

It’s not your fault your child is ill. It’s not your fault their behaviour is worrying and disruptive. And it’s not their fault, either.

lonliness