World Mental Health Day is 10th October every year and an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.
Before I had my youngest daughter, I naively thought of mental health as something that only affected adults, oh how wrong I was!
Children/Young People: Mental Health Statistics 2020
Mental Health statistics for 2020, taken from www.mentalhealth.org.uk, show:
- 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year
- 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24
- 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16yrs) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age
These statistics are nothing short of shocking! We are in the 21st Century, so how can it be that 70% of children and young people are STILL not receiving the interventions required?!
Mental Health for us
For those of you that have read my earlier blogs like ‘The words no parent ever wishes to hear‘, ‘Self-harm from a parent’s perspective‘ and ‘When your child suffers with hallucinations‘, you will be aware that mental illness is something that my youngest daughter suffers with, yes SUFFERS with, and something that is very much close to my heart.
To witness your child in such turmoil and distress is nothing short of heart breaking! The mental pain, the physical pain, the emotional pain. To be unable to take it all away and make everything better is just unbearable as a parent, this is your baby after all!
Since setting up No Magic Wand UK, I have, sadly, been slated for speaking out about the difficulties and challenges that we experience. I would even go as far as to say I was trolled. I was ‘blacklisted’ by one community and surprisingly, this was an adult autistic community (thank goodness this hasn’t been my experience across the board and the majority of autistic adults have filled me with such admiration and are very supportive!) who labelled me as a ‘martyr’ parent and an ‘albeist’ and it was only when I decided to speak out and clear my name, for want of a better word, that I was taken off of the ‘blacklist’!
No, of course I wouldn’t change my daughter for the world, however I WOULD take away her pain and suffering in a heartbeat if I could, what parent wouldn’t?
Autism and Comorbid Mental Health Conditions
Whilst Autism is a ‘developmental’ condition, and not a ‘mental health’ condition as some may think, it is important to note that, Autism: ‘begins in early childhood, persists throughout adulthood and affects three crucial areas of development: communication, social interaction and restricted patterns of behaviour. And here is the important bit for this blog’s purposes… ‘There are many conditions comorbid to autism’ (Wikipedia).
These can include: anxiety disorders, bipolar and depression, to name just a few and these ARE ‘mental health’ conditions.
So it is no surprise that many of our autistic children/young people also have comorbid mental health conditions and it is SO important for these to be identified in addition to Autism.
For us, given that my daughter was diagnosed with ‘Autism with features consistent with Pathological Demand Avoidance’ (PDA) aged 7yrs, this diagnosis almost hindered professional ability to consider and be open to the possibility that my daughter may also have a mental health condition.
I was also even made to feel (by Children’s Services) like I was somehow damaging her emotional well-being by continuously raising my concerns about her mental health.
I had concerns about her presentation, particularly when it was uncovered that my daughter was experiencing ‘voices’, however it was a long fight to get past the opinion of ‘well that’s due to her Autism and PDA’. It took over a year to finally secure a further assessment at a specialist London hospital, where she was subsequently diagnosed with Multiple Anxiety Disorder (Social, Generalised and Separation), OCD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Depression and Mood Dysregulation.
The heart breaking reality for children with mental health conditions
Alongside the day-to-day challenges, and indeed the trauma, which comes with living with mental health conditions, for us (I say us, in terms of my youngest and I) one of the hardest things we have had to cope with and manage is the self-harming (now termed ‘self-injury’).
Up until recently my daughter was self-harming on almost a daily basis and this had escalated from using drawing pins to razor blades. If you have ever experienced your child self-harming, you will know how incredibly difficult and traumatic this is, not helped by the mixed, conflicting and, dare I say it, unrealistic advice from professionals. I talk in depth about this in my earlier blog.
A parent’s worse nightmare!
However, what I haven’t shared to date, is the reason why I had to suddenly take some time off and away from No Magic Wand UK during the summer holidays…
The, heart breaking, reason for this was because on the evening of 5th August 2020, in the heat of the moment and during an incident, my daughter somehow managed to finally guess the passcode for the safe (where her medications are now stored following a break in to the metal lockable cabinet where I had previously stored meds) and resulted in her grabbing two boxes of her prescribed medication running upstairs, locking herself in the bathroom and taking an overdose.
The fear and panic in the house at this point was off the scale! No professional prepares you for this sort of situation. There is no guidance, no advice. Yes, we have our ‘crisis plan’ but in reality you end up following your own gut instinct!
At this point my middle (adult) daughter was on the phone to the ambulance whilst I was on the phone to the crisis team, however it was only the fear of an ambulance arriving on our doorstep that prompted my youngest to scream at me ‘YOU take me to A&E!’. I immediately jumped on this and bundled her into the car. The journey to hospital was one of mixed emotions/feelings, one of disbelief but on the same token, one of belief. How had our lives come to this? It wasn’t of any real surprise, given the history, however it WAS a reality I had always prayed would never come true!
Due to the quantity of tablets she had taken, it meant her kidney function levels were off the scale and resulted in a two night stay on IV fluids.
The whole experience was extremely traumatic for everyone, not least my daughter and her anxieties went through the roof!
I suppose the reason I am sharing this is to raise awareness. My daughter is just 12 years old. Whilst I am naturally forever hopeful that this will be the first and last time we have to go to A&E, it is definitely not the first time that she has, heartbreakingly, had suicidal ideology or intention.
Mental health/illness CAN and DOES affect individuals of any age and isn’t, as I naively thought, something that only occurs in adults.
For those of us that know, early intervention is key! However, sadly and frustratingly that early support is, in many cases, non-existent!
The importance of raising awareness/reducing stigma
Whilst the services, that may be currently available, are stretched beyond their limits, this doesn’t mean we should stop raising awareness. Yes, of course, by raising awareness it is hoped that more funding will be made available for these vital services, however raising awareness is also about reducing stigma. I know it is cliché, but mental health IS as important as physical health and it’s about time they were treated equally!
Where to go for support
Here are some national organisations that may be able to offer support and guidance if you have concerns about your child/young person’s mental health, but please also seek advice from your GP or local CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service):
The Mix: www.themix.org.uk
For further information on organisations that offer support for a range of mental health conditions: https://nomagicwanduk.com/useful-websites/