Emma White – parentingandmentalhealth.com
With so many children being raised by a parent with a mental illness more support needs to be made readily available.
Many parents are suffering in silence, afraid to speak out due to fear of the repercussions of speaking with a health professional.
If they are honest and tell a professional how they are really feeling or admit they are not coping, the question often lurks will they have their children taken away?
Social services have become the enemy, and this view needs to change.
Parents need to be made aware that there is support available and that support needs to be offered in a timely manner and not delayed.
In many cases the parent’s mental health will be short lived and with the help and support of the family doctor the parent can adjust and be treated with medication and counselling.
Children are adaptable and are robust to change, but when a parent has a more severe mental illness, their lives can become disrupted. Not all parents wish to take medication, other options of therapy and treatments need to be made clear, the parent needs to feel as if they have options in their treatment plan.
A care plan needs to be made, the parent and health professional both need to be involved in the making of this and it should be referred to and adjusted as needed.
I knew something was very wrong a long time before I sought help. I was 4 months pregnant with my 6th child. I had children aged 1,2,8,9 and 13 at the time.
My moods were erratic, my behaviour out of control and I was suffering from a psychotic episode. I had no idea what was real and what was not.
I was confused, angry and frustrated, but I was terrified of what would happen if I spoke to a health professional.
Would they think I was a danger to my children?
Surely if I told anyone that I could see things and hear voices they would deem me insane and section me.
I did not have time to be ill; I had a business to run. What would my family and friends think of me? Would they think I was crazy? I had so many reasons not to involve outside help.
The truth was I was frightened.
There is no doubt that my children suffered during these times. Thankfully my husband, family members and close friends met their everyday needs.
I was not able to care for them the way I wanted to.
My husband struggled for many months before he contacted a health professional and I found myself in the mental health services.
I was admitted to hospital towards the end of my pregnancy. I was exhausted, my pregnancy had been horrendous. For 3 weeks I stayed in my local maternity ward.
I was terrified that I would hurt a patient or member of staff. I was not given a side room and I was seen twice by a mental health professional during this time.
I had asked a midwife for a knife, so I could cut the baby out. No red flags were raised. A mental health professional chatted with me for 10 minutes and that was it.
I saw someone else before I was discharged, without medication and no knowledge of any aftercare. Thankfully my health visitor became my guardian angel and ensured I was supported.
She went beyond her job title to help me and my family.
My father and his partner moved in with us, I requested that I was supervised when left alone with the children. I was not prepared to take that risk, I knew I was ill, very ill.
I had refused medication during my pregnancy when Lithium had been the recommended drug. I was finally prescribed sodium valproate after trying three other unsuitable medications.
I remain on that medication to date.
I hid my mental illness from my children as much as I could, as I did not want to emotionally damaged them.
I did not make some miraculous recovery, but after 3 years of trying various medications and being under the care of a psychiatric community nurse, psychiatrist and psychologist, I began my recovery.
I had been diagnosed with bipolar and as my mental health improved I was faced with the devastation I had caused.
I no longer had a relationship with my children. I was the outsider. They would go to my husband for advice or when they needed things.
I had never been asked if my children needed support.
I was never asked how I felt towards my children.
The truth was I resented them, they were the reason I had to fight this illness and get better. At those dark times when I wanted the pain to end, they made me stay.
I had to ask for support. I fought to have my 3 eldest children receive counselling and a support worker became involved.
Our lives were transformed.
This simple yet effective family therapy has changed our lives.
Why is this not offered to every parent with a mental illness? Why are children not thought of?
Thankfully my three youngest children do not remember when I was ill, my three eldest children are now very proud of me. I will always remember my eldest daughter saying to me – “Don’t you love us anymore?”
I had to ask a health professional how I could explain my mental illness to my children. Once I did explain they said “Why didn’t you just tell us, we could have helped you”.
I feel my children would have greatly benefited from counselling and support earlier.
I went onto opening a Facebook support group for mothers who have a mental illness and to this day the main reason they do not seek help is fear of losing their children. The benefit system also frightens them.
We need to ensure parents and children are correctly supported and reinforce to those who fear social services that wherever possible they are there to help, not remove children.
Join our #EBNJC chat on 19th March 2014 9-8pm GMT as we discuss expereinces of parents with mental health illness. Our co-host Emma White together with EBN Associate Editor @CalvinMoorley will be online to share her experience and discuss how we can support parents with mental health illness.
Emma White – parentingandmentalhealth.com Twitter @therealsupermum