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Explaining mental health problems to kids

(5 Posts)
ButteryPie Sat 20-Aug-11 15:10:09

I'm pretty sure my 4yo DD1 is being affected by my mental health sad

I have bipolar disorder, which is pretty unstable at the moment. I have been an inpatient, and have had the odd day where I basically take tranquillisers and go to bed, plus quite a few days where I can't leave the house. I also sometimes find it really hard to cope with the kids, although I'm pretty sure I keep my temper down (I don't really tend to get irritated, just overwhelmed, or frustrated when I have loads of energy and the kids are lounging about)

Luckily we have DH and his family, who are really supportive, and my family are as well, although they are further away. When I was in hospital, my mum came and took the kids to her house, then my sister took DD1 after a week to her house in London and she was allowed to go to her work with her (she works in a primary school). DD2 stayed with my mum and younger sister, then they all came back home a few days after I was discharged. My mum told DD1 that I had gone into hospital to have my legs mended (I had spd with the baby)

Since then, DD1 has gone backwards with toileting, has become more clingy and needy, and has been playing a lot of games with her toys where the mummy leaves them sad. She also has learned to take the baby and play quietly when she sees me struggling, even though I thought I was hiding it.

The final straw came when she said "Mummy, when you feel sad or scared, is it because of me?"

I've asked the health visitor for advice and help, she just came round and filled out a form and hasn't been in touch since, and all my family just tell me not to worry, that she'll get over it. Thing is, she's starting school next month, and doesn't need more stress in her life. Also, everyone is talking like another admission could happen with the next relapse - they are getting worse each time and during the manias I am pretty bad. I want to prepare her better in case that happens, as in the run up, I wouldn't be feeling well enough to talk to her properly about it or might be completely unaware.

Any ideas?

joruth Sat 20-Aug-11 21:12:46

Well done for being up-front about your illness and well done for managing to keep going at all.

In my opinion keeping talking to children about what is going on is essential, not just one big talk but constant checking about their feelings, worries and fears and their understanding. Children have a huge capacity for taking the blame for our illness or deficiencies and at your daughter's age she will believe in "magical thinking" where she will attribute stuff to her thinking bad thoughts, or not wishing hard enough/being good enough etc.

Keep telling her that sometimes you are ill and you might have lots of energy but behave a bit funnily, other times you are ill and feel very sad or tearful. Tell her it's not her fault or any one's fault but that there are some chemicals in mummy's brain that make you feel funny and sometimes make you act funny and sometimes you need really strong medicine in hospital to make you feel better. Tell her even when you are poorly you really love her and miss her too but that you have to go to hospital to get better sometimes.

She won't understand it all at once but she will get a surprising amount of what you say....more importantly though she will know it's ok to talk about your illness and if you let everyone else know what you have said then they can use the same sort of language and reinforce what you have said. Tell school too because they will need to know ( and you won't be the forst or the only person with mental health worries there).

Research shows that although children of parents with mental health issues are affected , where communication is open and the support mechanisms ( your lovely DH and extended family) are there actually children of people with these problems can develop very good empathic skills and often end up in the caring professions.

It is sad that she has to deal with this but at least she has a mummy who loves her and all her family...better to talk and cope as best you can than try to hide everything....children always know anyway don't they.

Wishing you all the best

ButteryPie Sun 21-Aug-11 12:59:48

Thanks for the advice smile

cadifflur Sun 21-Aug-11 17:43:26

Hi, have you tried the royal college of psychiatrists' series of information leaflets? they're really useful and they have a wide range of stuff.
this link takes you to the list of leaflets available. There's one for bipolar disorder, which seems to have a link for parents with bipolar caring for children, and there's also a general link for young people on the main page too. anyway, may be of some use to browse around if you haven't seen them before. When I was suffering with depression DH didn't understand and found their leaflets really helpful. I hope this helps and best wishes.

Sleepglorioussleep Sun 21-Aug-11 21:59:20

I don't know what you say or how you say it, but well done for even thinking you need to. My mum is bipolar, and I had to work it out for myself whilst she tried to pretend nothing was wrong (with her anyway). I know this is a feature of the condition itself, but I spent years not understanding her or
my family and our relationship is now very difficult because she is unable to be honest with me about her condition. Your children will understand you and accept bipolar if it is something they have grown up understanding, at levels appropriate for their age, rather like they do any family situations.

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