As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close I wanted to add a few words about a subject very close to my heart. I think judging by the statistics discussed this week, it touches far, far more people than we would ever think. Despite this, we still feel too scared to talk openly about it. Thankfully it does seem that mental health is finally pushing its way higher up the social agenda. Whilst we wait for the Government, the Health Service, schools and employers to implement what’s fully needed to diagnose early and support those suffering, it is worth turning to our own families and especially our children who rely totally on us to protect them.
The Guardian reported that over 1/4 million children and young people are receiving mental health care in England (click here for more info). These will just be those whose problems have been identified. We all know children growing up today are faced with pressure from school like never before, pressure from their parents, friends and others to succeed academically, compete in sport, keep fit, join clubs…. the list is endless. This is never more so than in Kent with large numbers of Grammar Schools and the 11 plus on the horizon sometimes as early as Year 4.
With the digital age having completely consumed most of us, not to mention our kids, we are all too aware of how much pressure this can also put on our families. The negative impact of social media and gaming etc can sometimes be pushed under the carpet when we are time poor.
We all tend to have excuses as to why we don’t have time to talk about things and it sometimes seems just easier to let your child “close that bedroom door” and you get on with what you need to do. I think we all need reminding of the likelihood that, as much will have gone on in their day as it has in yours. However, children simply do not have the life skills to deal with it all yet.
How many times do we get frustrated that it doesn’t bother them that the toilet sits festering or that they haven’t washed their hands (again) and yet they fear abduction in a situation you judge as “safe” or that you may have had a car crash when you are a few minutes late collecting them for school? Do we only pretend to listen when they talk about how they feel when somebody insults how they look or what they say to them? Do we pay proper attention when they are worried that they will forget something or not be able to cope with an event the next day; so worried that they just can’t switch off and get to sleep? Do we get annoyed and tell them to “toughen up a bit”, but part of us is perhaps a bit concerned by their anxiety that seems to be escalating. We are all guilty I suspect of brushing off their sadness, concerns and worries because they are maybe not our type of worries. They seem so negligible when we are busy, we simply don’t have time for them. Let’s face it, dealing with problems is a lot, lot tougher especially when it’s us that has to set the agenda for them.
I believe time does truly need to be found if we are to stop these worries festering and growing. Time to talk to them, but most importantly time to really listen. As Frederick Douglass once said ” It can be easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults”. That is why I truly think we need to look out for those warning signals of stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, panic attacks and eating disorders etc which can all develop under our noses and are far bigger than that next “A” at school. These illnesses can be life changing and if there is anything we can do to reduce the likelihood of worries spiralling, then I think we owe it to our children to try.
When we listen, I think we should try to see the world from their eyes. It is so hard as a parent not to want to just “heal” the worry as you would a wound, take it away from them, deal with it yourself. Often talking it through, getting them to understand that we understand how it feels is far more valuable for them. Trying to give them tools to deal with these worries in the early days can be invaluable. Anxiety and other mental illnesses wrap around people. Some, we as parents will not be able to cope with alone, but trying to guide our children to see that their opinion is just one way of viewing the situation is certainly a start.
If you feel that things may be spiralling for your child or your family please don’t be ashamed of admitting you may need more help. We are need to be brave and do it for our children. We must support the next generation to talk about how they are feeling and sometimes it may be best with a specialist and somebody without the relationship ties. Notwithstanding your GP, locally to the West Kent area, Gwyn Carter is a consultant clinical psychologist and offers child and adolescent psychological services both in Tunbridge Wells and Heathfield. She is a specialist in her field. Contact details can be found at: http://www.clinicalpsychologistkent.co.uk/
Fegans is a Tunbridge Wells based charity which counsels children and supports parents https://www.fegans.org.uk/ You may like to have a look at their website and Facebook page for the work they do.
I feel so strongly about abolishing the stigma connected with mental health. I believe that this can start with us as parents willing to talk, spend time, explain and seek help where necessary. We owe it to our children and the next generation.
Nic is a photographer at Nic Bisseker Photography.
She worked previously as a lawyer, then as a primary school teacher before having her own children and later launching her own photography business. She loves working with children. The images Nic creates are not only a fantastic way to hold on to those precious memories of your children, but also a lovely experience in itself. Why not come as a family and enjoy some time away from the house together? Shoots can take place outdoors combining some relaxed and more posed shots or in my home studio in Tunbridge Wells. You can even bring your dog 🙂
Nic Bisseker Photography Tunbridge Wells: Children’s photographer Kent, Dog photographer Kent, Dog photographer Surrey, Baby photographer Kent.