Rethink Mental Illness

10 Ways to Help Your Mentally Ill Child

This week is Children’s Mental Health week and with 1 in every 10 children displaying symptoms of mental illness and a great deal of adults (me included) starting their mentally ill journey in childhood, I thought I’d tackle the problem head on and explain what ways you as a parent can help your child who is, or may become, mentally ill. Here are 10 things to do when talking to your mentally ill, or possibly mentally ill child.

1. Reassure them – The first thing that’s really important is to reassure yourself and your child that it’s really common to suffer from mental illness and it’s ok. People can and do recover from mental illness and many of us go on to lead perfectly normal lives either free from mental illness or managing its impact on us. We’re often perfectly capable of being at school, going to university, getting a job, getting married, having a family, and doing all of the things that are considered ‘normal’. 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental illness each year and 1 in 3 will in their lifetime – it’s really common and you can overcome it.

2. It’s not about you – The last thing your child needs is for you to blame yourself or start thinking about what you could have done to prevent it or how you might have caused it. If your child became diabetic or got cancer, you wouldn’t blame yourself, you’d just go into overdrive about how you could get treatment, this is the best way forward with mental health too – it’s an illness like any other. You’re not a terrible parent and having a child with a mental illness doesn’t mean anything about you. Keep focusing on them.

3. It’s not their fault – Their condition isn’t because of anything they have or haven’t done and no matter how much it looks like it, it’s not in their control. Telling them to cheer up, think positively, or just eat more, or telling them a list of all the things they have to live for won’t help them at all and will just alienate them further than their condition is already doing. Trust that they are doing their best to manage their condition and don’t EVER blame them!

4. Believe them – The most damaging thing I have experienced during my mental illnesses has been being disbelieved and accused of lying. Children do lie but it’s very rare that they’ll lie about mental illness for any length of time and if they’ve managed to pluck up the courage to tell you that they’re not ok, then you need to sit up and listen because they may not tell you again. Always believe them!

5. Take it seriously – This is not a phase. Mental illness is not the same as raging hormones or having a stroppy teenager. The things they’re going through may well not pass after a couple of rough months of sulking and door-slamming and you need to be prepared for this. Don’t play it down or dismiss it, listen to them and take action if necessary. Always take mental illness symptoms seriously.

6. Do something – If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour that you’re worried about, ask them about it. Don’t be afraid of discovering mental illness because the sooner you know what you’re battling, the sooner you can start fighting it with your child and the more likely they are to recover. Don’t wait, do something as soon as you have concerns!

7. Get help – If you or your child are concerned, go to your family doctor and make sure they believe your child and take them seriously. If they don’t listen, take them to another doctor until someone does. The sooner your child gets treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery and learning coping strategies and management skills so they can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life. Children are often dismissed and fobbed off (I certainly was), don’t allow this to happen or treatment may be offered way too late. Don’t give up until they get the help they need.

8. Talk to them – Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and if your child doesn’t have someone to talk to, they may deteriorate faster. It is likely to be very difficult and painful for you to hear that your child is suffering and hurting, but it’s much better for them to be able to confide in someone and for you to be kept up to date with how they’re doing so that you can get more help for them if it becomes necessary. Mental illness is utterly isolating and this is made so much worse when people around you are scared of talking about the feelings that you’re struggling so much with. Try to put your own feelings aside and listen to your child in a non-judgemental way so that they feel safe and able to express themselves. Just talk to them!

9. Research – Read about mental illness and when doing so, ignore everything the media tells you, mentally ill people are not often rampaging serial killers, they’re not crying in a heap constantly, mental illness has many faces and takes many forms and media representations are almost always wrong. Read real-life accounts of mental illness so that you can gain understanding about what it’s like to live with on a day-to-day basis (you can read about my own experiences of mental illness here). Find out about the symptoms and warning signs of the most common conditions so that you can be prepared and know what to look out for (links to useful websites below). Research, research, research – knowing what you’re fighting make it so much easier to fight effectively!

10. You can do it! – Mental illness is scary and unknown, and when you’re thrown into the midst of it, it can be terrifying, but by talking to your child about it, you will empower yourself and them to deal with it in the best way possible, as quickly as possible. Your child will be equipped to help their friends who might start displaying symptoms or confide in them that they’re feeling something different and they will also know that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject in your household so they can talk to you about it if something’s worrying them about themselves or someone else. Most of all, remember that anything you do off this list will be better than nothing and you can become a team with your child to tackle this together. You may not believe it but You CAN Do It!

Please share this as widely as possible so that parents and other adults who children might confide in can be equipped to deal with it. One of my favourite quotes comes from Bill Clinton who said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all”.

If you need more help, information or advice, please visit the following links.

http://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.rethink.org/

http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx

 

 

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Time To Talk Day – 2016

Today is Time To Talk Day, a day organised by the charity Time To Change to get people talking about mental health in order to end stigma and discrimination. I’ve done my bit and had my conversation about mental health Live on BBC Radio Sussex (I’m never one to shy away from the anxiety-provoking stuff)! Skip to 41.40 to hear me talking candidly about life with agoraphobia. Non-UK people may well not be able to listen, I’m working on getting a copy of it so that you can listen worldwide and will post it asap. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03ftnpx

Let’s all get the conversation started about mental health – ask if someone is ok, offer them a hot drink and a chat, send that email you’ve been putting off and remember that people with mental health problems are just like you, we’re people, we’re people who are suffering and by offering us support, you might just make our day more bearable, you might make us smile for the first time this week, you might just help us to see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and if nothing else, you’ll have shown us that someone cares about us and that means more than you’ll ever know!

Get the conversation started, it’s Time To Talk!

A Day in the Life – 10th Feb

Just to give you all a bit of background about this post – The charity Rethink Mental Illness recently advertised for people in the UK with a mental illness to participate in a nationwide project that they are running called A Day in the Life. They have chosen 4 dates, 3 over the coming year, 1 in each season, for all of us who’ve signed up to blog up to 700 words about our day. We were asked to say what we did that day, what went well and went badly, and what helped our mental health and what made it worse, so here’s mine for the second day, the 10th of February. My first post for the 7th of November can be found here.

Today has been a day of two halves. I woke up exhausted after a night of very broken sleep but I was excited too because today a friend who I lived with at Uni and haven’t seen for 18 months was coming to visit. I spent the morning cleaning my flat and trying to get as much tidied up as possible – my anxiety causes me to worry a lot about what people think of me and where I live so I always make a big effort to make everything look nice before someone visits. My friend arrived and it was so lovely to see him. We spent hours talking, laughing and reminiscing about our time together at Uni and we did lots of baking as you can see in the photo above. We made some coffee cupcakes with coffee buttercream which were really delicious and some chocolate and pecan blondies which looked and smelled amazing but tasted unbelievably sweet and sickly. We had a great time making them though and it was a great distraction for me as I’m currently withdrawing from the medication I’ve been on for 6 months that’s not helped my anxiety and has just made me worse. The time flew by and before we knew it it was time for him to go home.

I felt very flat after he left. I always do when I’ve had visitors. It’s so exciting seeing people and having company and not being on my own. I don’t get visitors that often and due to being mostly housebound I’m pretty much reliant on people coming to me rather than being able to visit them myself. I’m always really busy before they arrive making sure that things are tidy and clean and that I’ve made an effort with how I look and I try to be as fun and as well as possible when they’re here because I worry that I’m bad company because I’m ill and don’t have exciting things to talk about or stories to tell. When they leave again it’s very quiet. I usually turn the tv on so that there’s some noise but it’s just me left with my thoughts and remembering all the things we’ve done during their visit. I really do love seeing people, I’m a huge extrovert and one of the hardest things about being housebound is the lack of contact I have with people and that means it’s always difficult when they leave again and I’m back to being alone.

Thanks to all the sugar I’d consumed by eating too many cakes and licking too many bowls of icing, I was well into a sugar low when he left so I curled up on the sofa and eventually ended up falling asleep. The withdrawal kicked in with full force by the evening and I was in a lot of pain and very disorientated and sedate. It took me until 9pm to go and make myself some dinner and I was wrapped up in so many jumpers because I was freezing cold. I don’t really remember the rest of the evening because my tummy hurt so much and I felt sick and confused. I tried to distract myself watching tv but I have no idea what I even watched because I was exhausted and poorly. Thinking through the time with my friend made me smile though and a couple of other friends are visiting later in the month which I’m really looking forward to. Their visits mean so much to me and keep me going even when I’m feeling really rough. My bed is calling me as I ache all over and really need a good night’s sleep!

Today, seeing a good friend and having lots of fun and being normal for a while really helped my mental health. Withdrawal is horrible and after 7 weeks and counting of it, I’m really ready for it to be over but nonetheless, today has been one of the best days I’ve had in a long time and it just shows the benefit of good friends, laughter and cake!

A Day in the Life – 7th Nov

Just to give you all a bit of background about this post – The charity Rethink Mental Illness recently advertised for people in the UK with a mental illness to participate in a nationwide project that they are running called A Day in the Life. They have chosen 4 dates over the coming year, 1 in each season for all of us who’ve signed up to blog up to 700 words about our day. We were asked to say what we did that day, what went well and went badly, and what helped our mental health and what made it worse, so here’s mine for the first day, the 7th of November.

Today started like every other day with me waking up pretty tired after another night of medication induced energetic and exhausting dreams. I was cheered up though by my lovely boyfriend making me a cup of tea while I woke up properly. I’m pretty much housebound with anxiety so it’s the little things that make a big difference at the moment. Today was one of his days off work so he went out for the day Christmas shopping (very organised and totally out of character!). Last year we went together and had so much fun buying Christmas decorations for our first Christmas together in our flat, we bought everyone’s presents and went out for lunch. This year I’m trapped at home feeling sick at the thought of doing any of that but feeling so sad inside that I can’t be with him having fun like last year. I love the lead up to Christmas – my birthday is during Christmas week so I look forward to it all year and just love the festive countdown filled with Christmas carols, decorations, present shopping and visiting as many friends and relatives as possible. Today I’m dreading the lead up because I won’t be able to join in with most of it. I’ve been off work for 7 months with no end in sight and Christmas just feels like a cruel joke this year.

Anyway, I kept myself busy and tried to keep my wandering mind away from negative thoughts about all of the things I’m missing out on. Since becoming ill I’ve taught myself to crochet and spend many hours each day creating crocheted animals. Today I’ve been making a penguin. Unfortunately, the weather has been so grey and rainy that I can hardly see my stitches in the black wool and the medication is making me super dizzy too so eventually I just gave up. I watched some tv but I find it hard to make decisions at the moment so it took me ages to settle on a program to watch and I was reminded again that I really shouldn’t watch things with suspense or gore in when I’m feeling fragile with the anxiety because it takes an age to calm down again.

The weather, topped off with missing out on going shopping really kick-started my depression today and I just felt rubbish. Side effects from the medication meant that I wasn’t able to successfully distract myself and do crochet or any housework so I felt thoroughly fed up and low. After taking my 2nd lot of medication at 5pm I had a nap because I could barely keep my eyes open – this happens regularly as I’m only getting 5 hours’ sleep at night.

My boyfriend came home and bless him, he’s such a star, he always knows how to cheer me up! He’d brought home lots of Christmas catalogues from the shops so I can write a present list without having to try and trawl through their websites and he brought home a beautiful cake for me too (see photo above – it didn’t survive the journey brilliantly hence the slightly dodgy photo). He managed to get my birthday and Christmas presents and even wrapped them as soon as he got in so I’m not tempted to have a sneaky peek at what he’s got me while he’s at work! He knows me far too well! We had a chat about how much I’m dreading Christmas this year and all of the things I’m going to miss out on and we came up with some suggestions to make some of it better. He gave me lots of hugs which always make me feel better and I started to calm down and my mood lifted over the evening. He made us a lovely curry for dinner while I looked through the catalogues and then we sat and watched a film – I struggled to keep up with what was going on because my concentration and memory are poor with the anxiety disorder but he kept filling me in when I got lost.

Tea, cake and my lovely boyfriend helped me get through today despite the weather, medication and things I’m missing out on trying to drag me down. Today we just about won!