Debbie, a Time to Change bloggerNothing prepares you for your child being affected by a mental illness. There is nothing in the parenting manuals that can help you to understand and cope with the total change that comes over someone once they are in the grips of such an illness. I can only describe it as truly shocking, terrifying ... and utterly bewildering.

In the early part of 2009, my daughter, Jess, was, seemingly, your average 15 year old – an attractive, popular, bright girl, with many friends and a prediction of good grades at GCSE. Whilst not a confident girl, Jess lived a full life and was involved with a local drama group, played the saxophone, and was a member of the local swimming club. And then something changed ...

In the months that followed, Jess became crippled by a total lack of confidence - in herself as a person, her abilities, her appearance, her reason for being. She developed issues with food, began self harming on a daily basis, and her anxiety levels were such that attending school became all but impossible. She was depressed, rarely leaving her room, cutting herself off from her friends and everything that had previously made up her life.

In just 6 short months, Jess went from leading a normal life to being admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit.

What do you do when your beautiful teenage daughter says to you, “if you love me Mum, just let me die”? That was, beyond all doubt, the most heartbreaking and devastating moment of my life - a true moment of despair and one which will remain with me forever. In just 6 short months, Jess went from leading a normal life to being admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit.

At various points throughout Jess’s illness, on top of coping with the symptoms and repercussions of the illness itself, she has also had the difficulty of knowing how and what to tell others about what she’s been going through. Whilst Jess had many school friends, there were very few who she ever told about her problems. This was partly because she was ashamed, partly because she didn’t want to worry or frighten them, and lastly because she was afraid of their reactions.

Most of them only knew the full extent of her troubles the day before she was admitted to the psychiatric unit, when she went in to school to tell them that she wouldn’t be around for a while. Sadly, for some of them, what Jess was going through was simply too much for them to take on and their life and hers have since taken very different paths.

What a difference it would have made if the school had known how to handle Jess’s illness

What a difference it would have made if the school had known how to handle Jess’s illness, how to help her talk about her troubles, had had information to pass on to her friends. As it was, I had to find information to pass to the school, to her friends and teachers. Jess herself subsequently advised the school on tell-tale signs to look out for to identify self-harming.

Rumours amongst Jess’s peers about why she was absent from school ranged from her being in prison, having had a serious car crash to facial reconstruction! Had she, God forbid, got cancer or even a broken leg, these rumours would not have been circulating because people would have simply known the truth and would have understood what she was going through.

when Jess eventually returned to school just before her GCSEs, she didn’t know what to say

As it was, when Jess eventually returned to school just before her GCSEs, she didn’t know what to say and nor did anyone else ... so nothing was said! Having been absent from school for nearly 8 months, and in a psychiatric unit for 5 of those months, she just had to try and slot back in and carry on as though nothing had happened. In the end, it was just simply too stressful for Jess to be at school except for a few hours here and there.

Despite this, through sheer determination and will, Jess sat 8 of the 11 GCSEs that she had originally been intending to take. I am immensely proud of her that she passed all of those exams. There are few who would have put themselves through even going back into school after everything she had been through, let alone taking the exams. Subsequently, she went on to College to do a two year Advanced Diploma in Health and Social Care, which she completed last week with 2 Distinctions and a Merit – equivalent to 3 A Levels at grades A A C.

she carries with her the stigma of mental illness as she now moves on to find a job

And yet, despite these amazing successes, she carries with her the stigma of mental illness as she now moves on to find a job. Yet again she is faced with the decision of what to tell people about her mental health issues. She would like to be able to explain why she “only” has 8 GCSEs (her words, not mine!) and; that her experiences have made her a stronger, more determined and empathetic person. But it’s not these positive attributes that people would think of if they saw ‘history of mental illness’ on a job application.

My hope is that, in the future, the stigma of mental illness will not force young people to hide their strengths and talents for fear of what people might say or think about their mental health issues, but rather be proud of who they are and what they have achieved. I want others to see what I see when I look at Jess – not someone who suffers from mental illness, but a brave, determined young woman who I have no doubt will be a huge inspiration to many in the future. I am so very, very proud of her.

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Comments

I have a 15 year old son

I have a 15 year old son currently going through the same thing. Heartbreaking and exhausting...

anxiety/breakdown leading to not attending school

my lovely 14 year old son has severe anxiety and has not attended school for almost a year. we have been through camhs and now starting at the maudesley hospital out patient service. so very sad. any other views or advice ?

I understand

I understand what ur going through with him I have been attempting to contact CHAMS for 7 years and I haven told got anywhere I need help I have cancer but it doesn't stop me from every day life I have VERY high anxiety at the moment and I need help with it I can totally understand what you are going through and we can help one another

son won't attend school for a year

My now 16 year old has refused school for 3 months and won't go out at all, chamhs are going to home visit after a phone call where i was made to feel terrible. Tgey diagnosed exam anxiety 3 months ago, and now expect the doctor to assess again so they can come out. My son does not want to speak to anyone except me, and it is very difficult as he is happy, just angry when he gets anxious. I am waiting for chamhs or the doctor to contact me, and very stressed by this.

15 year old son

I am currently going through some mental health issues with my son. I was wondering if you could share your story with me? I know it's been 3 years but I am most interested. Thankyou Shelley

my son jake

He is 20 now. His problems started at 16. He drank too much alcohol. As he got older he drank more and more. He got into trouble with the police. He has been in jail 3 times. He got badly assaulted last year while drunk. He was hit on the head with a bottle. It has left him with a mental health problem. He has been in jail for 4 months. He came out and drank straight away and he got re called. He told me he needs serious help. He couldn"t cope being out. I just want him to get well. I can't see an end to it all. It breaks my heart.

Response to this blog

Thanks to Debbie for such a sensitive and heartfelt piece about Jess's depression and treatment. I would love to hear about how Jess and Debbie feel the school should have talked about her return. When my brother died suddenly, many years ago now, I returned to primary school and no-one mentioned the death or the fact that my brother was no longer at the school, not teachers or other students. It was agonising. But I'm not sure how best they could have handled it. Could Debbie have helped the school to address Jess's illness and recovery in a better way. I wonder if, for every person who has gone through mental health treatment who wants to talk about it, there is another person who doesn't wish to talk about it. How can school meet diverse needs? all the best Barbara

My parents can probably

My parents can probably relate significantly to this, I have suffered anxiety since age 7 which was missed by GPs, and I was 13 going on 14 when my mental health problems came to the fore and I had a breakdown. Back then I was aware of what impact it had on my parents, but now 23 and looking back - still suffering a variety of severe mental health issues - I can see so much more than I did back then, and I can't begin to imagine what my parents went through as well. It is important, so important, that those close to those suffering mental health difficulties, also receive support and guidance.

My parents can probably

I think the lack of support and guidance available to us as a family certainly made the situation much harder. I had some support from a member of the CAMHS team, and from my GP, but not on any regular basis. And it was especially hard for Jess's brother, who didn't receive any formal support, and probably didn't get as much support from me as he needed as I was so focussed on supporting Jess. As a family, we are now much closer, but there were times when it nearly pulled us apart. Having someone in the family who suffers with mental illness has a ripple effect, which can be far reaching. I think this is something that is hugely underestimated, but at a time when there are barely enough resources to help those suffering with the illness itself, I can't see this side of things being addressed any time soon.

suffering anxiety and panic art

Hello Debbie my daughter is suffering with anxiety and panick attacks, school are not very good with her and all I get from the doctors is what's happening is real to her, she has a mast worker who is trying everything and has just involved cahms again, the first time she saw cahms they said she needed help then the next time we went they took her in a room, had a chat with her and then fetched me in and said they didn't need to see her again, I'm at my wits end with it all now she has suffered since her last year in primary. She is sick all the time, it affects her muscles to the extent she can't walk, cries all the time, she has self harmed, written me a letter saying she's sorry if she's not here in the morning the angels have took her, the slightest thing can tip her over the edge, it's affecting her attendance at school, school are just not supporting her at all.

Anxiety

Hello Andrea I am so sad to read your story here and can i ly hope that your beautiful daughter comes through this. Our son now aged 17 has for the last four months dropped into this current state as well suffering with GAD and now depression. He goes to school late and on some days does not go at all. He struggles with sleep and does not do homework. He is having g private counseling as the procedure to go through with your GP and the NHS is awfully long winded. I thank god we are able to help our son and really feel so sorry for those who are unable to for whatever reason. We have a counselor and we are now contemplating finding a physiologist to try and support him and get him into a happier place. Our lives have really changed one hundred percent since this setback and our son a straight A student is soon to sit his AS level exams which i feel maybe are coming from too soon. Please accept my warm thoughts to you and your family and i do hope you find peace. Another thing to check for is b12 deficiency which is a major cause of many of the symptoms of depression and anxiety. I am sat here waiting for our son to come out from his session with his counsellor. I feel exhausted and had it not been for the support of so many individuals along this horrible journey i truly do not quite know we're i would be.

As a 37 year old man who has

As a 37 year old man who has lived with depression since my teenage years i can relate to this story,i first suffered around 14 years of age but not until the age of 24 was i diagonosed as suffering with depression,my school and family did what they could for me at that time,i had no idea what was wrong with me but in the twenty or so years since then awareness as really moved forward obviously not enough,i never spoke with any of my peers about this at the time and is only in recent years have i been able to speak and since learnt of some close friends that have also sufffered,speaking out and people being more open is important,life can be very challenging for everyone regardless of your condition,well done to your daughter and i hope she goes on to achieve everything that she wants in life

As a 37 year old man who has

Thank you for sharing your story, Richard. I think that's one of the things that has surprised me most that, by talking about our experiences, so many other people have opened up to us. At the time Jess was at her worst, I felt so alone and I didn't know anyone else going through a similar experience, and yet, gradually, the more I've been open and frank about it, the more I've found that our situation is not unique! Talking about it seems to give other people permission to do the same! Thank you for your good wishes.

thank you

This is an amazing piece of writing and shows what wonderful people you and Jess are. She will find her path and her experiences will make her stronger. I hope that life is kind to her as she has already shown so much courage and strength. You have also shown amazing courage and strength - I wish I had had a mum like you. Love, respect and all good wishes to you both X

thank you

Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and support x

Good luck to you both

Hi, I was diagnosed when I was 13 with depression, and wasnt hospitalised but attended a clinic. I also took time off school. and as with you, my school didnt have a clue. I too wish that schools were better informed so that people suffering are helped and supported and not isolated through ignorance. Every blessing to you and your daughter. I didnt get anywhere near as many as 8 gcses when I took mine, you can tell her from me, she can be VERY proud of herself.

Good luck to you both

Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Hearing from people who have been through similar experiences really helps. My overwhelming sense is that everyone who has gone on and done anything with their life while suffering with a mental illness deserves the utmost respect and admiration, so thank you for sharing.

school

My 16 year old has suffered with anixety for 9 years & also has dyslexia we are going though a nightmare re school they have been be negligent are going to complain to the Secretary of State , maybe too late in the day for us but maybe help someone else.

Anger

Does your child suffer from depression as well? Why would the school contact the Secretary of State?

Thankful

I was 17 when I first began to show signs of depression, but it was only a year later that I was diagnosed and began anti-depressants etc. There are so many support systems, and people that should support people with mental illness, whether they are schools, workplaces, NHS etc. yet it seems that they rarely receive it. I was on the waiting list to receive CBT for 2 years and never got to see a therapist through my manic period of depression. Without the help of my Mum I don't think I would ever have made it through those 2 years. It's so lovely to hear that family members support those with mental illness, not everyone can say that they have that. Some parents just tell me children to snap out of it, or brothers and sisters just cannot understand. But all we really need is the love and support of those closest to us to bring us through some of the pain of depression. It was great to read your story and I hope your daughter begins to recover further with her depression. Depression doesn't ever go away, it'll always be with you somehow (I am currently free of my depression but suffer with bad anxiety) but as long as she has you there for her, I have no doubt that she can pull through anything All the best for you, your daughter and your family Eloise

Thankful

Thank you Eloise, your words of encouragement are much appreciated. Sadly your story of waiting so long for CBT, and the general lack of access to support, seems to be the norm. It's so frustrating, when things like this can make such a difference, and, as you say, not everyone does have the support of family and friends.

What a strong young woman

What a strong young woman Jess is and likewise, what a supporting mum Debbie is. Sadly, it may affect Jess' chances of work in the future (I'm having that very problem at the moment having lost a job because they found out I had a mental illness) but when she gets a job that is meant to be not only will they not use it against her but they'll help her and support her and encourage her in her work. Any employer who uses it against you is not someone you want to work for. Good luck Jess and congratulations on your success with your diploma and remember to point out to potential employers that although you have battled a mental illness, you have worked at it and you have overcome it to gain brilliant results in your GCSEs and your diploma, it has made you a stronger person and given you life experience, be proud of yourself and everything you have achieved. You're a star.

Debbie's blog

Thank you for sharing this. I have had depression/mental health problems for many years. They probably started when I was a teenager, though not as serious as Jess's, until after i had children and got severe post-natal depression. I empathise with you and her about putting on an application form for a job about suffering from mental illness. It almost dismisses you from the start, but surely if you have suffered it must make you more understanding of people, especially wanting to go into a job in health and social care. However much we try and reduce the stigma, it is still very difficult to get people to understand, as they are frightened of people with mental health problems, as portrayed in the media

Debbie's blog

Ginny, I'm sure what you say is true ... people are frightened of mental illness, but hopefully by talking about it, people will see that, actually, anyone can be affected by mental illness at any time. Once people realise that, maybe they will stop judging and start being more understanding. We live in hope!

Stigma and a lack of understanding are rife

I so feel for Jess and hope hat he is able to move on with life. Getting 8 gcse's whilst dealing with stigma and a lack of understanding is quite an achievement, and she has gone on to prove that she is very capable. I had a breakdown in 2000 aged 32 and faced the same stigma and lack of understanding when I returned to work and my employer was the social work department of my local council, the very people who are there to care for people. A year later the treatment from my employers lead to me being even more ill and suicidal and having to give up work and I haven't worked since as I've continued to battle depression and anxiety. Good luck to Jess, she's lucky to have a fab mum.

Stigma and a lack of understanding are rife

Jen, I'm sorry to hear about your experiences at work. The effects of stigma and discrimination should not be underestimated, and make a difficult situation so much worse. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope that you are able to return to work at some point in the future, if that is what you decide is the right thing for you.

Well done Debbie & Jess

A really well written blog, well done Debbie - and well done Jess on all you've achieved. It is so sad that so little has changed. I had a very similar story in my teen’s – but with anorexia & in the years 1995-1999. So little has changed in those years! I cannot understand though how schools can still be so ignorant! In 1995, I was one of 4/5 probably in my school year by the time we reached year 13. That was 17 years ago & the numbers keep growing! How can ignorance exist on something so common?! I did the same or similar college course to Jess (again leaving the school to do college where few people knew me). I only took 7 GCSE's – yet no one has once asked why so few. I may be 31 now, but it’s never come up & 12/13 GCSE’s were common then too. Many people only put their top grades on CV's anyway, so only show that number. I displayed it as - GCSE's - 3 A, 4 B - as if I was showing off my top marks. The experience you've been through Jess, will have made you stronger, even if you don't always feel like it. You have a gift of having suffered horribly & fought back. You can use it to help others, wherever you work - empathy & sympathy will break down the barriers and it starts with those small everyday conversations. I work in a bank (the healthcare industry just felt too close to home in the end!) but have my ear bent endlessly & I love it. People need to be listened to & loved for who they are, wherever they are. x

Well done Debbie & Jess

Thank you for sharing this Jackie. It's really helpful to hear how other people have handled this situation, and good to hear that it hasn't held you back. Thank you.

Is there any way I can get in

Is there any way I can get in contact with this lady so I can talk to her daughter. I have been through exactly the same thing myself (daughter not mother) and would love to talk to somebody who has been in the same position as me since I am usually forced to hide it

hello, i am going through the

hello, i am going through the same hellish situation with our 15 year old daughter,nobody to talk to as its a secret.would love to speak to a mum who knows what we are dealing will.

Coping

I have been trying to help and support my 15 year old daughter for the past three years. She has diagnosed PTSD, anxiety, depression and gender issues. She has also self harmed for a couple of years. That's the hardest bit- when you know they have a blade in their room. Your child; the person you absolutely love the most hurting themselves and you have to step back and allow it to happen. Life is often like a horrible rollercoaster ride. She can't maintain friendships; she seriously overthinks conversations and definitely can't accept or listen to opposing points of view. Some days are better than others, but it seems especially difficult at the minute (exam stress added to the mix?).We have had our allocated CAMHS time and tried medication but things seem to be getting worse. I desperately want to make life better for her. We have a good relationship; however, when it's particularly bad I am straight in the firing line. I just don't know what to do for the best half the time. As a mum it breaks your heart. You try to be strong but I have cried many tears whilst driving back home from work on my own. My biggest piece of advice is don't keep it a secret. When the going gets tough you need the support from as many people as possible.

J Hodgson I couldn't read

J Hodgson I couldn't read your post and not comment as you could be describing my almost 16 yr old daughter whom we have just realised has aspergers syndrome. You mentioning trouble with friendships, not being able to take on board other points of view and gender confusion have just leapt off the page to me and I'd urge you to look it up. Aspergers presents differently in girls than boys so it is often missed or missed diagnosed but when we started reading up about it everything suddenly fell in to place and it's such a relief to finally understand! My very best wishes. x

I couldn't read your comment

My daughter is 23 years old , and about almost 2 months ago she complained of pain on her left lower side ..Her boyfriend took her to a local hospital, they did tests and couldn't find anything only that her eggs would swell up when she was obvelating at time of her monthly cycle. so they gave her morphing for her pain and let her go home .Later that night she began to cry and act very scared and real clingy ..Then she was fine for a few days ..A week later she got pain again boyfriend took her to other hospital they said she had multiple gal stones they admitted her and she had surgery the very next morning ...so now everyday she is saying things that don't make sense she has been wondering off walking by her self all hrs of day and night she was admitted to sunrise hospital for mental confusion ...she is home now but she is the same nothing seems to be working its very upsetting to my self and I feel hopeless to her because she is 23 years old she won't except help especially from me ...I pray everyday that she can pull threw this but I'm still so worried...

anxiety

My 15 year old son has been having severe anxiety and social interaction problems. Not eating, becoming isolated, losing friends, struggling to go to school and classes when he's there. I think he's on the autistic spectrum or has aspergers or something. He hides under blankets can't stand Lou noises. He's visited the doctor twice recently and has been given fluoxetine. I had a phone call from a person he can trust last night to say that she had received a text from him to say he self harms, we went to the bathroom where he was showering and found him with a pair of scissors.I'm at my wits end. He's been referred to camhs on two previous occasions but they weren't interested. They said he'll grow out of his problems. He has his exams coming up and I'm just so worried for him now and his future. Where to I go in a crisis? If he tries suicide do I get him sectioned. I'm out of energy to deal with all this.I have to work, do I give up work to care for him? I have no idea where to turn for support.

Anxiety

Hi Bernice, Having been where you are I understand how upsetting & alone you must be feeling. My Daughter was going through the same thing, self harming, not wanting to attend school, not socialising with friends & family. I was lucky enough to have a understanding doctor who referred her to camhs, at first they didn't think it was anything more than depression it was only when my grandad died and she showed no emotion at all that they began to take more notice. A year later she's on antidepressants for anxiety and has been diagnosed with ASD. My advice would be to keep pushing the doctors & phone camhs saying you want your son to be tested for ASD and voice your concerns if your not happy with the person you see you can ask to see someone else. You know your Son better than anyone don't let them tell you there's nothing wrong he will grow out of it etc. Sometimes being film with them is the best option. Let your Son know your there for him & love him without crowding him I know it's so hard with the self harming and that's what I found so hard to cope with esp with no support from family & friends. If you ever want to talk feel free to contact me. All the best Nikki

This is interesting to read

This is interesting to read from the point of view of someone who got ill at a similar age, although I managed to struggle through my GCSEs and eventually dropped out near the start of my A Levels. I don't think there's anything the school could have done to keep me there because I was just too ill, but there are definitely things that could have been better. I was dropping subjects and going in less, and on one of the occasions I was there, my sociology teacher came over to me (that was one of the subjects I had had to drop even though I got an A* at GCSE in it). I thought she was coming over to ask how I was, but she just asked for my my textbook back! I found it hard to talk to people about being ill when I was younger (I'm 25 now and only just recovering). Nowadays, I'm just completely honest, to the point where I probably disclose when it's not even really necessary! My thinking is that I want people to know that mental illness is not something that is written on your face, it is not something that is obvious, and people who seem 'normal' can be mentally ill. If I tell people that I'm bipolar, it immediately changes their perception of what a bipolar person is. It shows them that the mentally ill are just normal people who happen to have an illness.

This is interesting to read

Lydia - good for you for taking such a brave, open and honest approach to telling people about you being bipolar. I think this is exactly what forces people to change their perceptions. You have my admiration and respect.

an amazing parent

Jess is very lucky to have a parent who was strong for her, and stuck with her. I started self harming in school and no one noticed, I'm now 27 with severe and enduring mental health problems and live in supported accommodation. Jess' future is so much better with the support of her family. I too think schools should be far more aware of the signs of mental health problems, and do more to educate children.

an amazing parent

Thank you, Beth, for your kind comments. It seems that everyone thinks that schools play a key role in helping to raise awareness of mental illness. It would just make things so much easier for children and young people if mental health problems could be discussed openly and honestly. Thank you for sharing, and I wish you well.

Mental health

I am moved by this blog ....your daughter Jess has shown remarkable strength and courage. It is my genuine opinion that people who suffer the darkess moments can offer the brightest rays of light to others. As an employer I would not shy away from employing someone who has faced mental health issues .... It is an illness like any other. I have employed a measurable amount of so called healthy individuals who have proven to take an unhealthy amount of sick leave! I wish your daughter every success. She already achieved so much, I have no doubt that with support and understanding, if and when she needs it, she can achieve so much more.

Mental health

Thank you for sharing this - I really value hearing your point of view, and your comments are so true. Let's hope that, in the future, more employers think as you do.

I suffered from depression

I suffered from depression during my final year of university and as I started my first job. My parents were living hundreds of miles from me. I tried so hard to protect them from my what I was going through. Reading Debbie's story was so moving. I can't imagine how hard it must be to watch your child be so broken. For me, one of the greatest motivating factors for getting well again was seeing how much my family and friends were hurting. I knew the only thing that would take the worry away from my parents was me being well again. I love my parents so much, they have given me everything and expect nothing in return. I so much wanted to give them the gift of a well daughter. It was the only thing I had to offer in return and I fought so hard to give it to them. And in the end I did. Jess sounds so brave. And has my absolute admiration.

I suffered from depression

... and you have my admiration Jane. Your comments are very moving, and I really feel the strength of your love for your parents. You have given them the best gift possible.

i loved your story of your

i loved your story of your daughter, it made me cry, it was heartwarming hearing how proud you were of her, me being much like jess would have loved this sort of reaction from my own mother, my whole family denies my illness even though its been professionally diagnosed and explained to them, they still refuse it. so to hear you acknowledge her and praise her for her accomplishments is lovely.

i loved your story of your

Thank you for your comments. I guess we have been lucky that our experience has brought us closer together, although I would add that not all members of the wider family have been so supportive. For some people, it seems that a diagnosis of mental illness is simply not something that they can get their head around, and that denial is easier than confronting the reality.

Jess

I think schools at the tween and teen level need to make education about mental illness as important as sex education. Kids need to know about mental illness. That it is not shameful. That there is help and are solutions out there. Knowledge beats stigma and stigma being beaten breaks silence.

I first became ill when I was

I first became ill when I was 15, and ended up taking an overdose at 16. I never really thought about how my mum must've felt even though she herself has got mental ill health; so thank you for this piece. The thing about being a teenager at school and having a mental illness is quite hard. It's almost like you have double the stigma and pressure - not just the public in general but friends and peers who will be confused and harsh about things (and of course learning about life and growing up in addition to being ill). My class kinda knew something was happening to me; it didn't help that I had a mini-breakdown in the middle of my English class and shouted at the teacher when he asked me why I was reading a book instead of working. Looking back, I wish my school had had more focus on mental health. My school was a girls-only one and there was a LOT of PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) lessons on sexual health but I honestly can't remember a single lesson about mental health, the different types of illness and who to approach if you needed help. I think all schools (well secondary schools in particular) should include mental health awareness in their syllabus if they don't already do so (I was last in school in 2005). How can we break down barriers and ignorance if you don't know what you're dealing with?

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