My Mental Health Tips as A Parent
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Covid has changed everything – even the passage between seasons. Lockdowns and restricted movements are particularly challenging for people who are already struggling with mental health. However, there are many practical things we can do to smooth these transitions; in this blog I’ll share my experience as a parent caring for a child with mental health challenges.
Spring has sprung but, in several states, we are still in lockdown very much confined instead of enjoying the freedoms of the world outside. The warmer days and blossoming trees are there but to tease us, for we are still schooling, working from home and caring for the ill, often isolated from our community and families. So, I thought I would look at the spring cleaning of our minds and souls, things internal, rather than the usual frenzied cleaning of our homes that occurs at this time of year.
After eight years of journeying with my daughter through her mental health challenges, I’ve learnt a few things I’d like to share. Acknowledging that every person’s journey is different, I know that what I’m sharing are my experiences and the ways in which they’ve helped us as a family, and me as a parent.
Having a child with mental health issues can be an extremely lonely journey. Apart from parents who’ve had similar experiences, there aren’t many people who can understand the immense challenges involved in navigate mental health—emotional, physical and psychological. Firstly, you need to allow yourself to recognise that there is a problem. Your child is not bad or being difficult but he or she is struggling. This, in itself, is a minefield. But it’s only the first of many. Finding your way through a mental health system that is stretched to breaking point often leads to heartache and frustration.
My Tips for Parents
1. Trust your gut instinct—you know your child.
If people tell you not to worry, your child is just pushing boundaries as all teenagers do, and this is a normal stage of development but, it doesn’t feel right to you, then listen to yourself.
2. Don’t be afraid of the stigma of mental health.
Struggling with the stigma will get in the way of finding the right support systems for your child.
3. Take school refusal seriously.
Children who are perfectly happy in life do not school refuse and make trouble at school. If they are doing these things there is something wrong.
4. Share your story, don’t be ashamed.
We are a small community and therefore we need to help each other. If you know someone who has faced such challenges with their child and you believe they could help you, ask a friend for their number. How ever you can, make it happen, do it—be pro-active. It’s a long and difficult journey so sharing and supporting each other will lighten the load, no matter how rough the road may be. Talking and sharing with each other is how we learn, grow and acquire the strength to go on.
5. Stay informed.
Read all you can to be informed about mental health and keep searching for options and ideas. There are many sites like the Black Dog Institute’s Lifeline, Beyond Blue and many more where new ideas are presented.
More General Comments Regarding Mental Health
1. If you are worried about your child’s immediate safety, go to your local emergency. I know this can be confronting but it is better to be safe.
2. The first stages of working out your child’s mental health issues can be overwhelming and confusing. Probably, you’ve been dealing with challenges or worries at home for some time. What to do? Who to see? Where to go? All seem like an impossible task. Start with your GP, but if it has gone beyond that, try your local Child and Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
3. The government mental health system is under immense pressure and, as a parent, this can be challenging. Especially when your child has been admitted to a hospital mental health unit. At times, you may feel that you are being pushed to use outpatient services; but if you really don’t think you can manage at home, you must be strong and voice your concerns to the doctors and medical practitioners looking after your child. You will come across many amazing people in the mental health system but, unfortunately, they too are struggling to keep up with demand, and supply the services that your child may need. Remember you are your child’s voice when they cannot advocate for themselves.
4. Look everywhere, there are many private hospital mental health wards that offer 2–3 week programs which can help to get your child on the right track. The easiest way to find a private hospital is to check with your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist. If this fails, search the net for Private Hospital Youth/Adult Mental Health Wards. The challenge with the public system is that they don’t have the ability to supply these types of courses and are really an acute care system. Once your child leaves, they are sent to CAMHS which offers weekly sessions until your child is coping better; unfortunately, often, this is not enough. You could also try connecting with SANE another organisation offering forums for families and carers.
5. When your child is in a very difficult place, it is hard for them to work through problems if they are not seeing a specialist weekly. Anything less can seem like a holding pattern. It’s hard to work through issues without regular check-ins.
6. Lastly, there are many amazing programs, some offered by hospitals as a day patient, some offered by private organisations and some by community groups. Search for whatever you can find in or around your area. We’ve tried many and, in the end, DBT has been the winner for us. Everyone will find a different therapy that works for them so keep looking because when you find the one, it can be life changing for your whole family.
I hope the spring cleaning of my mind has been helpful. I know there is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start. Remember you’re not alone and together we are stronger.