By Miriam Gwynne
This morning was not a good morning. In fact most mornings recently have not been good.
My child has health problems but I can’t call the doctor. There is no cream I can rub onto her sore areas, no plaster I can stick onto her cuts and calpol will make no difference. She worries me so much.
I am a sensible grounded parent. I know what to do when my child has a sore throat, or a temperature or a rash. I know if she has an accident and needs checked out I take her to hospital. I know if she is unable to keep her food down I can take her to the doctor to make sure she is not dehydrated. I have a full first aid box at home with basic over the counter remedies for most things.
But when it comes to her mental health I am lost.
She cries far more often than you would expect from a child her age.
She is sad far more often than you would expect from a child her age.
She has no interest in life, or toys or doing much at all.
She has little interest in food.
She has no spark, no energy about her, no motivation.
If she was 28 instead of 8 I have no doubt she would be diagnosed with depression and given medication. She may even be lucky enough to be offered counselling. But she is 8 so it is different. Mental health in children is so unrecognised, so misunderstood and far too often just ignored.
People tell me things like ‘it’s just a phase all children go through’ or ‘it could be her hormones’ or even things like ‘she is manipulating you to get her own way!’ Stop for a second and think about that: imagine if we said that about adults struggling with mental health?
I spend so much time talking to her. Sometimes we get to the bottom of things that are bothering her, sometimes we don’t. Tomorrow it could be something else again.
That’s what people don’t understand: the simplest thing can send my child into such a negative spiral for months.
She is over sensitive I am told. She is just an anxious child. She will grow out of it.
I know she won’t though. She is a child with mental health struggles and it is likely she will be an adult with mental health struggles. That worries me so much. I don’t know if she will ever manage to live alone, have a job or raise a family. She jumps every time the phone rings and panics if the door bell goes. She lives on her nerves.
There simply isn’t the help for children like her. Children are supposed to be energetic, care free, loving life and eager to learn. We make assumptions that if a child is sad then the parents are at fault or the child is just naughty. We say that children who struggle to eat are just fussy eaters.
As a society we are doing our children a real disservice by not accepting that mental health issues can affect children every bit as much as they affect adults.
It was a hard morning again today. My child struggled to eat, to get dressed and to walk to school. I worry how she will cope with all that a school day demands when her mind is so fragile. I worry about how she is interpreting what others say when she is so sensitive. I worry if her anxiety will allow her to talk or eat today.
Had she been going to school with a broken leg everyone would know to keep her safe. Had she been going with an asthma inhaler the staff would be protecting her. Instead she is going to school with mental health difficulties and no-one seems to understand.
It’s that lack of knowledge and lack of understanding in society that causes me to worry most as a parent of a child who has mental health issues.
Miriam Gwynne is a renowned blogger who has her own site where she discusses issues she faces raising two children on the autistic spectrum
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