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Mental health difficulties in young people – a parent’s story

Mental health difficulties in young people – a parent’s story
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Earlier this year we launched our parent’s toolkit on child and adolescent mental health, in partnership with Bank of England, Morgan Stanley and PWC. 

The toolkit is a starting point for parents and carers who want to understand mental health in young people, and especially for those who are concerned that something may be wrong.

The toolkit also contains lived experiences of parents of young people – and young people themselves – with mental health difficulties. We’re grateful to those people who have told their stories, and are pleased to share the full length account from the mum of a daughter who’s been living with anxiety for half her life.

A hidden problem

“We realise now that the very first symptom of our daughter’s mental difficulties appeared when she was aged eight. She just said she couldn’t sleep, what we didn’t know was that she was having panic attacks. We didn’t pick up that there was wider anxiety, she was ebullient at school and socially, we didn’t spot any signs.

“She’s our eldest daughter and we were a bit naïve, so when she talked a bit about having suicidal thoughts, I thought it was a bit strange and put it down to her creativity and imagination running away with her. She still refers to us not taking her seriously in that moment – but it was very hard to connect that conversation with the outgoing and happy child we saw the rest of the time.

“It wasn’t until she was in Year 7 that other behaviours manifested and she began to open up about her difficulties. I noticed more erratic sleeping, she would have very dramatic and sometimes violent outbursts, lots of arguments, extreme mood swings. She went through a period of not eating, and several months when she said she wanted to change gender.”

Needing help from others

“Behind all the behaviours, we knew there was someone in there who was confused and upset. My daughter was willing to talk about her difficulties and I would listen and try to help but she told me I couldn’t, and I rapidly realised I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. However, she was asking for help, and engaged with all the outside support that I sought.

“My first port of call was the GP, from who we had low key support as well as talking therapy for my daughter with Relate.

“But by the time she was 14, she had become very closed down. One Sunday we were having a heated discussion in the car on our way to a family lunch, and she told us she was self-harming. I pulled over at the first opportunity and talked to her to try and establish how bad it had got.

“At that point the GP referred us to CAMHS and after a long wait my daughter got into the system and was diagnosed with anxiety and put on the list for talking services.”

Steady progress

“CBT has really helped her with panic attacks and changing the cycle of thought around self-harm. It’s enabled her to decouple her thoughts from behaviours. While things are still very up and down, and we go through very difficult weeks, she hasn’t self-harmed for several months.

“I’ve tried hard for it not to, but it often dominates family life and her younger siblings are scared of her because she can be aggressive and violent. It also causes tension with my husband – he wants peace and to smooth everything other but I won’t let unacceptable behaviour lie, which causes arguments.

“My advice to other parents on the start of this journey is to recognise that there are boundaries to what you can do before you need external support. I think that even if I’d had all the vocabulary and all the tools and training, as her mum, I still wouldn’t be the person she would accept help from.

“So look for as much support for your child and yourself as you can. The best thing I’ve done for myself is to open up about it to friends and colleagues. It can feel very lonely at times, so talking about it has been liberating and has enabled me to find allies who are going through similar things, one of whom is now like a sister to me.

“It still feels precarious and fragile, but little by little our daughter has improved and is in a much better place than she was in Year 7. Her difficult behaviours have never manifested at school, which gives me some comfort that in different environments she’s more in control. I just hope she can continue to improve and find an equilibrium.”


Parents' Toolkit

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