A parent's story about mental health disorders
Owen's story about his daughter Charlotte (17)
My daughter Charlotte is now 17, but when she was around 13 she started showing symptoms of depression and anxiety. She knew something wasn’t quite right and started talking to her school counsellor and eventually she told her mother and I and we took her to see a paediatrician to get extra help.
Charlotte has always been outgoing and comfortable with public speaking. She loves to ice-skate and to sing. But when she was around 13 she started withdrawing from people and from all the things she loved doing. She was going to her room a lot, crying a lot, she had low self-esteem and difficulty with her peers at school. She was upset easily. It was tempting to think of it as normal adolescent behaviour, but soon we realised she was having more bad days than good days and it wasn’t normal.
Charlotte was the first person to realise something wasn’t right, and she started seeing the school counsellor – without even telling her mother or me. After a few sessions the counsellor felt that Charlotte’s symptoms of depression and anxiety were serious enough for us to be informed and Charlotte told us about the counselling and we talked about the depression and anxiety. I wasn’t concerned when she told us she’d been talking to a counsellor – it was nothing to be worried about. I was glad she’d been getting some help when she felt she needed it.
The next step was to go to our GP and see what he recommended. He’s a good bloke, very caring, and has known Charlotte since she was a baby. GPs can refer to a range of health professionals like psychologists or child psychiatrists and in our case he referred Charlotte to a paediatrician, who prescribed some medication as well as helping Charlotte by just talking to her.
I found it hard to come to terms with Charlotte being on medication, but it helped her a lot and eventually I came around to it. When I found out that my daughter was depressed, I had mixed feelings about that because I myself have suffered from severe depression. On the one hand, I felt so worried and fearful about what she might be going though, based on my own experience. But on the other hand, I felt that I was able to offer her some good advice and understanding since I’ve come through such tough times myself. She didn’t necessarily think I understood at the time but now she realises that I do have a certain amount of insight.
We talked to her teachers a lot – every couple of months – which was mostly because she had trouble with her school work, and they were very helpful. But on a personal level I didn’t really talk to anyone about Charlotte’s troubles. We wanted to keep it in the family. I did talk to my mother a couple of times and I found that helpful. In order to keep myself relaxed I like to keep fit. When the weather is cooler I do a lot of long-distance running, which is very important to me.
I don’t think that depression or anxiety are things you grow out of or get cured of. But you can learn to manage them. Charlotte has managed them really well. Right now she’s much more settled and I think a big part of that is that she’s finished school and is enjoying uni a lot. She’s also learned that you don’t need everybody to like you – you just need a handful of really good friends. Some of those lessons come to everyone as they grow up, but when you have a mental illness it can be difficult to learn them.
As for myself, I’ve learned to listen to my children. Sometimes you just have to let them make their own mistakes. The best thing to do is to try to understand what they’re going through, not to tell them how it is, but to listen to them. Let them explain how they feel and take that on board. You have to open your eyes and take their concerns seriously.