Mental health has been in the news quite a bit recently, with the Heads Together campaign by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Price Harry.
I listened to Prince Harry’s frank conversation about his mental health with Bryony Gordon on her Mad World Podcast. It was inspirational and deeply moving. This is exactly what’s needed for the stigma of mental illness to end: people talking about it openly.
I’ve been fairly open about my own mental health issues. I suffer from PTSD, caused by childhood abuse. This causes anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I cope with this much more effectively than I used to. I spent pretty much all of my teenage years trying to hide everything I was feeling. When I realised that this coping technique wasn’t going to work long term, I had to face everything that had happened to me. I became very introverted, I spent most of my time at home alone for a couple of years. Even when I had my daughter, I’d force myself to take her to play groups only to sit in the corner and hope that nobody would try and approach me.
Moving to Cardiff was a big turning point. I tried making friends for the first time since high school. But I still needed help. I went to my GP, was prescribed anti depressants and put on a waiting list for counselling. The medication did help. The counselling was better, even if I did have to wait a whole year for it and even then only got six sessions. My counsellor suggested lots of books I could read. Books about other abuse survivors and how they cope with PTSD. I also read up on why people abuse, which was difficult but did help me realise that it was nothing to do with me and everything to do with my abuser’s issues. Late last year, I stopped taking medication (which was very difficult). These days, I still have bad days (and the odd bad week or even fortnight) but I’m better equipped to deal with it now.
Talking does help. Husband was the first person I confided in about the abuse. He was, simply put, brilliant. But talking to a professional was important too. We need to encourage people to seek help for mental health in the same way as we all would for any physical illness. With 1 in 4 adults suffering mental illness of some kind during their lives, we need to stop viewing this as a weakness or abnormality.
I’ve taken this into consideration in how I talk to my daughter and encourage her to talk to me. She knows it’s okay to say that she’s not okay. She knows that if she has any problems, little or big, she can talk to me and/or her Dad. Even if she’s done something wrong, it’s always better to talk about it than try to hide it.
As adults, we might think that children’s problems can’t be nearly as big or important as our own but we need to remember that what might look quite insignificant to us can be overwhelming for a child. We need to at least attempt to see it from their perspective.
I still struggle with how to discuss my own mental health with my daughter. She knows very little detail about my life before she was born. She asks questions that I don’t know how to answer. I want to set a good example of being open and honest about feelings but I know my issues are just far too complicated for her to understand, even aside from her being too young to be burdened with such things. It’s that tricky balancing act of protecting children while also introducing them to the real world and properly equipping them to live in it.
How have you approached the subject of mental health with your children? Have you suffered mental illness and, if so, how have you coped with it as a parent?