This is a really difficult time for parents, children, teenagers and young people at the moment. As someone who has been worried about their child there are a few things that I can recommend. It is extremely difficult if your child is living away and does not have the usual support of friends and family around them. Their usual coping mechanisms may not be available. Likewise, if there has been a bereavement in the family and they did not get to say goodbye properly either by attending the funeral or seeing the person before they died. They may have added issues such as autism, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, coping with a disability, drugs or alcohol, they may be concerned about grades, exams, whether they will be home for Christmas, have been the victims of abuse or suffer from low self-esteem. I could go on.
The key thing is to spend some time talking to your child, you may not have all or even any answers, but just knowing that you are listening to them is very important. If your child has a condition such as autism for example, recognise that trauma may exist. We do not necessarily have to have seen something terrible to experience trauma or PTSD. For someone with autism they may be experiencing trauma but unable to recognise this as it does not fall into (what we perceive) as a traumatic experience. A person with autism thinks in a different way and what we experience can be very different to how they experience things. This can be an important point for any mental health illness too.
Did you know that 75% of mental health illnesses starts before the age of 24? An estimated 25% of children will have suffered a depressive episode by the time they are 18.
The experience that I have had over the last 8 years has put into perspective for me the huge lack of support that is out there for parents. To me it makes sense that if the parent gets support then they can have the tools they need to help their child. When I say child, I am referring to your child at any age. I have had the unfortunate encounter of trying to reach out to mental health services for a number of years, with only now experiencing the very best mental health support for my own son after a tragedy occurs. Unfortunately, it is only when a tragedy occurs that many get the help, especially for serious mental health diseases.
But how can you best support your child and yourself? It is important to realise that you need to look after yourself. If you do not do this you will not be in a position to help your child. Children will learn from us and if they see that we are looking after our own mental health this is a healthy example to show them. If they see that it is a sign of strength not weakness to seek support, they will be more inclined to follow your example.
I cannot underestimate how important it is to just sit with your child and listen. If your child was physically ill you would spend time just sitting with them. You would not feel the need to fix them or offer them advice, only tend to their physical needs. Mental illness is no different. Just knowing you are there is enough. Trying to fix their problems can lead into a drama triangle where you eventually end up getting cross with them for not doing as you suggested which will then lead to your child closing down and not wanting to talk to you.
Whatever you do, do not blame yourself. You may start thinking that you have caused this by genetics or the environment you have brought your child up in, but in many circumstances this is not the case at all.
Research the condition your child is going through to gain a deeper understanding of what they are going through. There can be a lot of stigma linked with mental health but by understanding the mental health condition you can start to realise that many people go on to have a satisfying and fulfilling life.
Tell your child how much you love and care for them. Regular contact with friends and family is important. Ensure they feel supported and accepted no matter what is going on for them. Do activities together to try and create a stronger bond so they feel they can talk to you about anything.
Mental health issues can take months or even years to overcome and can be very complex. Medication may work for some and not for others. If you are really worried it is important to seek out help for your child and for yourself. The old adage, “you cannot drink from an empty cup”, is very useful to remember.
If anything I have said in this blog resonates with you and you would like to reach out to a counsellor for support for you, please feel free to contact me for a confidential and non-judgemental chat. Even through this turbulent time I am offering face to face therapy as well as online therapy.