Guest post: Children and mental health - 'I recognise myself in my son, and it terrifies me'
A recent survey revealed that children's mental health is their parents' greatest concern - yet funding for mental health services to support young people has fallen by £50m since 2010. Here, Lucy Benedict - who has depression - writes on her fears for her little boy, in whom she sees so much of herself.
Put Up With Rain
Posted on: Thu 08-Jan-15 15:08:34
(32 comments )
What do most parents wish for their children's future? To be healthy. To be a good person. To be happy.
‘As long as you're happy’, goes the mantra of parents. ‘As long as you're happy, and you're not hurting anyone, I'm happy’. It's really no surprise, then, to learn that in a survey conducted by Action for Children, 40% of parents said that the emotional wellbeing of their children was their most important concern, with health a close second. Amongst mothers, the figure was 47%.
Generally, we take good health for granted - as long as we feed and water our offspring correctly. We baby-proof our houses, we use car seats, we cross at pedestrian crossings, we teach them the right way to hold scissors. We take the steps we can to keep them safe from physical harm. But what we can't do is change the world around them, and how it will shape their perceptions, their thoughts, and their feelings. If you have a child who is a sensitive, gentle soul, life can be a hard road.
I'm ridiculously proud of my little boy – aren't we all? He's funny, he's intelligent, he stands up for what he believes in. I couldn't feel closer to him. He knows when I'm going through a bad patch, when my depression returns, and even though I explain to him that it's just a misfiring brain, and that it's nothing to do with anyone else, least of all him, he tries his best to help. We make each other laugh like no one else can. We love the same humour, we both love to read, we like to be in each others' company. Although he's blond and blue-eyed, and I'm a red-haired, green-eyed monster, we look alike. We have the same massive face, for starters. My phone is crammed full of photos of the two of us pulling faces at each other. He's a lot of fun.
My little boy is considerate, empathetic, gentle, sensitive - and he's a little fragile, just like me. What does the world have in store for someone who bruises so easily?
He's considerate, empathetic, gentle, sensitive - and he's a little fragile, just like me. I recognise myself in him, and it terrifies me.
At times, it's heartbreaking to see myself reflected in him, and to know that he struggles with life at times, just like I did at his age. Just like I do now, in fact. This sweet, thoughtful boy, who can sense my mood better than anyone else in the world, and whom I can understand perfectly, just from the way he'll pause in a doorway, or how he touches his hair - what will his future hold for him? What does the world have in store for someone who bruises so easily? Who will take the smallest of unintentional slights as a deep and gaping wound? For whom everything is taken personally?
That's the life I've lived, and I don't want my children to grow up feeling the same. So, I do what I can. When he struggles, I don't let him go. I want him to know that his feelings are important, that he is important, and he matters – a feeling I've never had. I want him to grow up knowing that it's okay to be soft, to be kind, to be sensitive, but never at your own expense. That it's good to care about others, but sometimes you need to be selfish and put yourself first. That other peoples’ happiness is not your responsibility. Your first responsibility is to take care of your own mental wellbeing. And talk. Always talk. To me, to your dad, to teachers, friends, grandparents. Talk to those whom you trust.
And to my boy, my son, my sweet, wonderful one - I wish I could protect you from all the hurt and harm in the world. I wish I could fight every battle for you. I wish I could save you from the bad times. But I can't.
All I - and any parent - can say is: when the world seems to be against you, when people have hurt you and when you're feeling low, come to me. Let me put my arms around you. Talk to me and tell me what's wrong. Open up and share with me the dark thoughts that you can't push away on your own, the clouds that won't pass. I can't promise that I will always be able to make the sun shine through again - nobody can, my love - but I will always be here for you, to listen, to talk, to care. And to make you know and understand that you are important, that you do matter. But most of all, that you are loved.
By Lucy Benedict
Thank you for putting so beautifully the way that I, too, feel about my beloved boy. Just maybe that reassurance and support that you describe will ease things for our children, even if it can't make things perfect.
You and he will have a great future together - you've got each other x
This brought a tear to my eye. I feel the same way about my son. I just want him to be stronger than me.
This just bought a tear to my eye-beautifully put!⛅️
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
You sound like a wonderful mother and you know your son best, but to be on the safe side I think you have to be careful not to create a self fulfilling prophecy. It is good that you will be vigilant and aware of the possible problems, but they are only possibilities and his experience won't be the same as yours. Your son will of course have things in common with you, but he is a different mixture of genes and environment. He isn't you or the same as you.
Who will take the smallest of unintentional slights as a deep and gaping wound? For whom everything is taken personally?
You don't know that this will be the case. I think your ideas of what to do and how to support him are wonderful and quite right. I just wouldn't want him to pick up on the expectation that he will be so fragile, or be influenced by being treated as if he will.
Great post, thank you..
I have had mh issues since as long as I can remember. It's obvious that my eldest does too. But the difference is that his are recognised and we are helping him, which just wasn't the case when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s.
This is me and my DS, thank you for articulating it.
Beautiful words, thank you - I have a 'sensitive' DS and just want to teach him how to handle the world and others' opinions - they really don't matter!
Lovely post. I have 'melancholy' periods and have always been highly strung. I see the same traits in my DC. I hope that I will be able to encourage them to express their emotions in a healthy way and build resilience in them.
I agree with TemporaryUsername and also recommend you read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.
With mine I want to teach good coping mechanisms (excersise, creativity, discussion, eating well, sleep, pacing himself with appropriate down time) but also make him feel treasured and have good self esteem.
I sort of have this the other way around. My dad has bipolar and i have seen him struggle so often. I have had several periods of "general lowness" - Drs have never diagnosed depression and I can often identify an actual stress / trigger at the time so it probably isn't - but it is accompanied by anxiousness about "being like dad". Sometimes I find myself thinking I'm just like dad in other ways (positive things) which makes me worry what other ways I am like him.
We do take health for granted - be it mental or physical. My Dneice has issues but has yet to be evaluated. It's heartbreaking when you can't protect children from the realities of this cruel world.
I think something that's helpful to think about is that pain and feelings of lowness are normal parts of the human experience. The alternative to feeling pain in life is to feel nothing, to not exist. We all experience hard times, feeling low, fragile, unworthy, less than. That's not a pathological experience confined to mental illness.
Having come out the other side of severe psychiatrically treated depression and anxiety myself, I'm just not sure that any of those feelings are beyond what most people will have experience of at some point in life, for some reason (say, because bereavement or relationship breakdown or unemployment etc). It was just concentrated and I got lost in it for a while. I also think maybe talking about it isn't the panacea I believed it would be... I think talking about your dark thoughts and feelings some times elevates their importance and escalates the whole thing, being more ruminative than anything. Being supported not to run from dark feelings and just to let them pass, to have someone be present, can be more supportive for some.
We are all sensitive, gentle souls in our own way. Life is a hard road for all of us. We are all fragile. Most people will face the dark night of the soul at some point or another, sooner or later. Some will benefit from psychiatric treatment, some will find other ways through it. Just be careful of the story you are telling yourself about your son being more vulnerable than any other child, or for that matter, yourself. The only minute is now. Sometimes we can get so bound up in our stories of 'I'm the sort of person who....', when all we have are a series of moments, with choices available in all of these about what we do and where that takes us in life.
DUplo... Thanks for that post, really helpful framework for thinking about this.
Do threads like this stay anyway, or do I need to save it somehow?
A beautiful post. Thank you.
I know you say you see yourself in your boy, but I wouldn't be set on that idea. I presume your son is young? Don't let on that is the way you feel. It could be like a self fulfilling prophecy. You could be worrying that you see yourself In your boy because you are so desperately hoping he doesn't go through what you have experienced, and it might be worth considering you are seeing shadows rather than reality as a result of your fragility on this issue.
For those worrying that they are going to suffer the way their parents did, or that their children will become them, I say please stop worrying. What will be, will be. Life is too short to be anxious all the time. I suffer depression and went through a very bad spell but came out the other side. I still get my low days but with positive change and support I am coping. My mother didn't have it and nor did my father, however my Auntie did and still does. The more worrying that is done, the less likely you are to enjoy the small things in life - the beautiful sun in the warm blue sky, the cool breeze through the evergreen trees. I work with a number of parents with mental health issues and they all have the same worry. Like the above article says, we can do everything we can to ensure that our children's health and wellbeing is as positive and open as possible but we can't change the world, the media or what their friends are like. Just encourage them to be open, build on your relationships and encourage them to feel secure enough to turn to you in their darkest hour. Just be aware of pushing your child/children too much. If they feel you are being nosey, or under pressure, they will shut down. Once that barrier is down it is very hard to open it up again.
I was brought up with my mum telling me it was okay to feel this way, that it is okay to talk about things and share how I feel and I am eternally grateful for this. I am able to share my experiences and dark days not only with those close to me but the families I work with, offering them something to compare to and allowing them to know they are not alone.
Lovely post. I could have written the same as I have struggled with anxiety and depression since childhood. Sadly history has repeated itself and my beautiful, sensitive and intelligent boy attempted suicide at the age of 15 and is now an inpatient in an adolescent mental health unit. It is the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with and it will be a long road from here. On a positive note he is receiving amazing care on the NHS.
There is a 40% increase in youngsters self harming because of poverty since Cameron came to power. Child poverty is at it's highest ever recorded. Children are turning up at school depressed, unkempt and hungry and more children face being taken into care (where they are at increased risk of mental illness) because of Welfare cuts.
All services are being destroyed including health and social care in favour of privatisation which will only benefit the few. Cuts are more savage in deprived areas. There are reports that some children are so hungry they are having to turn to prostitution to eat. All this means life long trauma for many children and the RCP have said many children suffering mental illness are not receiving treatment.
This government have legislated so that they no longer have a duty to provide health or social care. They only have a limited responsibility to provide preventative information on health care. In my opinion the only way to change this is to have your say at the next General Election.
Great article, I came here to post about the exact same issue (and also about being the child of a parent with MH problems).
I have found many of the PP very helpful, reminding us of the dangers of self-fulfilling prophecies and excessive worry, and the fact that talking is good but not a panacea.
It is so so hard to stop the worry though, when you seem almost 'programmed' for it.
I have bipolar type two and spent several months in a psychiatric hospital whilst in my 20s - I am now 45 and have been on medication for 20 years.
Mental illness runs in my family - I am sure it is genetic.
My question to you, if you don't mind my asking, is are you on medication?
My mother had severe and untreated depression. Her mood swings affected me very much to the worse when I was a child.
I have a 12 year old son - I am determined that he will be affected by my health problems. He is, like your son, sensitive and caring.
Whoops - that he will NOT be affected.
I found this post very moving too Lucy. I often have similar worries over my 7 year old son who has been bullied since he started school. His sensitivity seems to draw the bullies in. So sorry to hear what has happened to your son Happyy. I hope things improve for you soon.