The worry of raising a child who has mental health issues By Miriam Gwynne 

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 

https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/

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Family Life: The Biggest Casualty of Modern UK Culture By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

 

Barely a day goes by without me hearing some mention of Britishness and British values. There seems to be an acceptance by some that Britain is the envy of the world. I have never been sure what this is based on.

What sums up modern British life? What are the central focuses of our culture? I’d argue money, work and the pursuit of status are what our daily lives and almost all of our time are filled with.  

I visited Holland this summer and could not help but notice how much more relaxed the Dutch way of life seems to be as oppposed to here, where many of us feel our days are about trying to cram in as much as possible. The expectation is to be a conscientious employee, always on time, never be unreliable, strive to climb the career ladder at the same time as being an involved parent, never missing a school play or sports match. keep a perfect house and helping with homework and all manner of other things. But although we might not like to admit it, our value base in this country is about putting money ahead of family life and happiness. 

We are preached to that our status is based upon our (material) assets, people seem to long to tell you how much their car/holiday/phone/home cost, and expect you to be impressed.  

There often appears to be a badge of honour in how many hours you work over what you are contracted; almost as if the company might collapse without us and many of us are forced to waste hours every week sitting in traffic jams or awaiting delayed trains as we commute to jobs far from our homes. Rising costs of living and stagnant wages leave many of us feeling stressed about making ends meet.     

But does it have to be like this? I’d argue not and that the way of life we have here can be changed. Denmark and Norway won the first and second places in this year’s World Happiness Report.  

What’s different about them? Well, both Denmark and Norways’ cultures prioritise experiences over material goods and strive for equality. They have relatively small wealth gaps and friendships are seen as a value. Both nations cherish sharing activities with friends and family.

In the Norwegian language there is even a word for helping each other without being paid;  ‘dugnad’. 

Occasions where everyone contributes their time and skills for the good of the neighbourhood is seen as vital for the good of all. Similarly, Danes might pay extortionate amounts in tax, but this has given them a sense of cohesion; everyone having a stake and everyone getting something back. Unlike here where post compulsory education without being linked to career aspirations is regarded as an extravagance, most Danes take weekly evening classes, all free at the point of receiving them. How many of our lives would be enriched if that were the case here?

One reason people in Denmark have time for enrichment is that they simply do not work the hours we do. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 hours. Danish workers work an average of 26 hours and Norwegians 33.  

One of the sad things about our culture, in my view, is the failure of us as a society to put family life first and the impact it has our children.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year conducted a study of children across 44 countries. The results made for grim reading, It found Britain’s 15-year-olds are suffering due to ‘pressure at school, feeling fat and drinking too much.’ They were less likely to report ‘good life satisfaction’ than their foreign counterparts.  

73% of girls and 52% of boys in England felt pressured by school work, significantly higher than the average of 51% of girls and 39% of boys across all countries. 

While 50% of girls and 25% of boys in England think they are too fat, higher than the average 43% for girls and 22% for boys across all countries.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers have consistently argued that the mental health of children as young as six is being blighted by exam stress. We have increasing numbers of young people self harming and suffering from anxiety and stress. Although there are many reasons for this, I would argue the culture in this country which judges everyone, regardless of age on their possessions and status is at least partly to blame. Children are judged on their test scores, their school’s place in the league tables, their clothes, their family status, where they live and all manner of other things that should not be important. So, it is no wonder, like British adults, so many children cannot escape the feeling they are not good enough.

What about if Britain had a culture where employers encouraged and helped promote family life and other activities? What about if when meeting people for the first time we asked people about their hobbies and interests instead of where they live and what we do for a living? 


What about if spending time doing community based activities was the norm? What about if we judged each other by our actions and nothing else – not appearance or status or possessions?

I think we would all be much happier. Isn’t that what we should strive for as a culture rather than the best GDP or the most millionaires?  

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