I was in secondary school when I developed mental health problems and started to self harm. I had experienced a lot of bullying from my peers and I felt very isolated and low, often spending lunchtimes sitting in a toilet cubicle or in the library studying alone.
I tried to open up to friends about my mental health, but I was met with responses like ‘it's not real’, ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘you’re just attention seeking’. I reached out to teachers too and while some were helpful, others told me I wasn’t ‘severe enough for help”. These comments made me feel even worse and I ended up developing suicidal thoughts. Luckily, I had some great support from my family.
After my parents became aware that I was struggling they started a conversation with me about it. Initially, I was worried that if I told my parents how I was feeling they would react badly or they wouldn’t like me anymore. However, they were really supportive. They didn’t shout at me or blame me for my problems like I’d worried they would, nor did they assume they knew what was going on in my head – they simply listed to me. Once I told them what I was experiencing, they spent some time doing research online, learning about mental health and finding out how they could best support me.
My parents also had lots of conversations with other family members about my problems to help them understand what I was going through. It meant that if I had a panic attack during a family meal everyone understood what I was experiencing and knew what to do, which really helped. When mum spoke to my teachers about my panic attacks, the school started doing more to help me too. With CAMHS support, the school allowed me to have regular 1-2-1s with a teacher and access to a separate time out room if I needed it, which made a big difference.
The conversations I had with my family had a huge impact on my mental health. Talking helped me to feel more supported and understood, so my condition gradually improved. I’m still really open with my mum now because of how supportive she was then.
I’m about to start a one year college course. I’m a year behind because I needed to take some time out due to my mental health. It’s a busy course with lots of work, so after my previous experiences I’m a bit concerned that the workload will impact my health. I spoke to my mum about my worries and she gave me some really helpful advice about how to manage my time, and she reassured me it’s ok to take breaks from my work if I need to. It’s really helped knowing I can talk to my mum about my feelings whenever I need to.
My advice to parents who want to start a conversation with their child about their mental health is:
- Pick the right time and place. Ask them if it’s a good time to chat, and make sure they feel comfortable in their surroundings so they can speak openly.
- Explore some other ways of communicating. Sometimes young people find it hard to talk about how they’re feeling, so giving them the option to write something down or draw instead can be really helpful.
- Start with a hypothetical conversation. Speaking about someone else’s mental health – like a friend’s or celebrity’s – can show them you’re open to speaking about the topic. Starting a dialogue can help open the door, reassuring them it’s ok to talk about their own mental health too.
- Listen – don’t assume. It’s important to take in and understand what they have to say. Avoid making assumptions and putting words in their mouths. Simply listen, and let them know you’ll always be there for them.