According to research conducted by Place2be, the children's charity which provides in school counselling, one in five parents admit they would discourage their children from seeking help for mental health problems. This was even higher from fathers who said they would be deeply embarrassed if anyone found out that their child had a mental health problem.
Place2be clinicians said it was understandable parents felt worried that by seeking help for their child's problems. It might mean their family life will be exposed and that they would be blamed for poor parenting.
David Castillo Dominici
I can understand that. I have two sons of my own. One of them has sought outside help. Did I feel bad? Yes, terrible. But what's the alternative: shame him into not getting help to preserve my own ego? No.
One in ten children has a diagnosable emotional or mental health problem according to the Office of National Statistics. That's three in every classroom. Rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years among teenagers. One in five children has symptoms of depression and almost a third of 16-25 year olds had thought about or attempted suicide.
These are classic mental health disorders that can be diagnosed by medics:
• Self-harm through cutting or burning
• Generalised Anxiety Disorder
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
• Autism spectrum disorder - a developmental disorder that is characterized by impaired development in communication
These, however, are problems adults have when raised in a dysfunctional family have which can't easily be diagnosed but, without treatment, may cause a lot of other problems:
• Indulge in excessive alcohol abuse and indulge in other forms of self harm
• Live with chronic anxiety; full of fear and self doubt
• Feel isolated
• Rarely achieve their full working potential
• Unable to maintain healthy relationships
• May look confident on the outside but secretly hate themselves
• Try to fix their broken childhoods through loveless relationships
• Feel overly responsible for others' feelings
• Believe most things are their fault
• Constantly seek approval for their existence from others
• Pass on these traits to their children
We have to count the cost for the fall out from both lists. According to Place2be, ten years ago, detailed estimates put the costs of mental health problems in England at £77 billion, including costs of lost productivity and the wider impacts on wellbeing. More recent estimates suggest the costs may be closer to £105 billion.
My guess is the bill is much higher when we also consider the impact of divorce (and absent fathers) on children, the handing down of family dysfunction to the next generation and the resource needed to care for people who won't admit they have problems but will continue to abuse substances (food, drink, drugs etc) until they become ill. How many of our youth institutions are filled with kids who come from dysfunctional families? How many people in their 20s are too depressed to function, let alone maintain a job and had to seek government assistance just to survive?
The problem with parents not allowing their kids to get help is they are exacerbating the entrenched rule of the dysfunctional family which is: Don't Talk About The Family Secret. We can only guess what family secret is: Mum's affairs? Dad's drinking? Violence in the house? Being broke?
Whatever the problems are, the child is loyal only to his family and will not say anything outside the house for fear of retribution inside the house. This severely messes with the child's head as he has to separate himself from his peers in order to keep this secret and, as a consequence, misses out on normal childhood development.
Once these children become adults, like alcoholism, mental health doesn't stay still; it gets better or it gets worse. I know this from my own experience having been raised in a dysfunctional family. By the time I was 20 I was living in a personal hell with a death wish that frightened me. One of the ways I coped was by using work as a way of escaping my feelings. A side effect of this was I made enough money to get some serious help.
However, I know life would have been a hundred times easier if I'd been able to talk to a counsellor when I was a child while I was growing up. Just to have someone say, look - your parent's behaviour is not your fault, go out and enjoy yourself with your friends would have made a lot of difference.
We need a new policy from government level down if we are to catch these vulnerable children before they fall. As shocking as these figures are, we haven't got time to re-educate parents into being more honest with themselves. More over, why is it down to a charity to support this new generation of young people? There should be a whopping Government budget put in place to support the amazing work they do.
A future problem for these parents is that if the children seek help as adults, they may have to lose contact with their family because it's often the only way to sort out a messed up childhood. This happened to me and I couldn't be around my parent's for ten years. It took a physical separation to heal my childhood wounds. They were not happy with me seeking the help I needed. The whole family imploded and, if I'm honest, has never really healed.
If I could offer any advice to parents of a child with mental health problems it's this: we all do our best as parents and never intend to purposefully hurt our children. However, what we had to offer may not have been good for the child. Time to let a professional in and help because they are trained to see things we can't and they have skills to help a child get back on their feet quickly.