Did you know that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week? I didn’t. Not until Facebook started showing me regular posts on mental health. Facebook is clever like that – it has realised that this is a subject I am now ‘interested’ in and therefore want to see more of. And it isn’t wrong. I might not have chosen to be interested in this topic, but by having a daughter with a mental illness, by default…I now am.
My daughter has a mental illness.
I don’t really feel comfortable saying that out loud or writing it down. Why is that? If she had a chest infection or a broken leg, it would be entirely different. The reason? These illnesses have no element of shame or mystery attached to them. There is no stigma that seems to go hand in hand with a mental illness and nothing that stops people from talking about them.
Don’t for one minute think that I understand her illness. I don’t. Unless you have experienced a mental illness yourself, I just don’t think you can. But I’m trying to learn about it because she’s important to me. I want to try to understand her better; to learn to help and not to hinder. It has become my duty as her mother.
The most important thing I’ve learnt so far? Anxiety, depression and eating disorders are just like any other illnesses that with the right medication and support, can be recovered from.
Did I mention that she still has a sense of humour?
It hasn’t escaped my notice that Mental Health Awareness Week began on the same day as my daughter’s GCSE exams. Funny that. I’m not saying that her current situation is a direct result of the exam pressure she was under, but the fact that she is taking them in a psychiatric unit, hasn’t escaped my notice. She’s beginning to see the funny side of that:
“We all laugh when we’re walking down the high street, wondering if people know that we’re from a mental institution”.
It’s strange what people assume when you say that your child is suffering from anxiety and depression. “Does she ever laugh any more?” “Is she rocking in a corner, unable to form a sentence?” (ok no one actually said that but you get my drift). Whilst I know that does happen to some people, this is not the norm. And it certainly isn’t her experience.
Education and an open dialogue is what needs to happen and it has to start in the home. I’m beginning with my home.
Mental illness happens in ‘normal’ families too.
If you’re reading this and thinking that I’m being too open, too free with my words, struck down by the classic blogger’s curse of ‘over-sharing’, I’m doing this for a reason. I’m using what I have in my hand (a blog with an audience) to tell people that there’s no shame in admitting they are suffering, it’s ok to say out loud that someone in their family is struggling to fight a mental illness.
Why is depression an illness that we keep locked away? Why do we not talk about it? Why is it any less worthy of sympathy than a broken arm or pneumonia?
I am pretty certain that if my daughter had felt able to tell her school that she was feeling under pressure, or tell her friends that she wasn’t up to going out because she felt anxious, or tell me, her mum, that she was simply struggling to function day to day, she wouldn’t be where she is now. She might have got help sooner.
If we stop the silence now, perhaps one person will get the help they need. Today.
If you’re a young person who is struggling or you know a young person who you think might be, Young Minds is a good place to start. Their free, confidential Parents Helpline is what prompted me to take my daughter to the GP.