I am a mum to an amazingly strong, beautiful and engaging 15-year-old daughter. However, three years ago my daughter Libby was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Over the past 9-12 months Libby has filmed a CBBC My Life documentary called Marvellous Messy Minds.
She made this documentary to try and change the stigma that surrounds mental health, and to share her story so others can find the help and support they need. I'd like to use this opportunity to share with you all our experiences and to hand out some tips that have helped us along the way.
1. Recognising the Signs:
This is the thing I found the hardest. How to determine if Libby was ill and needed help or if it was teenage angst. There were, however, a few major character changes that made me realise it was more than a mere hormonal attitude. Over a period of a few weeks Libby started to withdraw and hideaway, she was very emotional, not sleeping well, not eating well, getting angry and aggressive, had little or no energy and was looking for excuses to not spend time with friends.
If this is your child - talk. It took a while to break through but with persistent questions and asking about her feelings she eventually came out of the fog for enough time to realise that she needed some help.
2. Seek Help and Diagnosis:
Once Libby admitted she needed some help we decided to go to our GP. Before we went I asked Libby to write a list of all the things she wanted to see the doctor about in case she forgot anything. Once at the GP's Libby found it impossible to talk so just handed the GP her list, the GP asked if anything had happened to make her feel this way. Libby answered 'No' but the truth was her grandfather had suddenly passed away four months previous (I informed the GP of this).
The GP diagnosed Libby with depression and anxiety but before she could do any form of referral she suggested Libby should get some grief counselling as it would be required by the referral team. After the diagnosis of depression Libby was very angry and dismissive, she realised she had anxiety but was in denial with depression, it took a couple of weeks for Libby to come to terms with that. Over those few weeks I did research online about bereavement counselling services within my local area and forwarded all the information to Libby for her to make a decision about her own path of treatment.
Libby is an intellectual who likes to weigh up all options and look at things before making a final decision; her decision about the bereavement counselling would be the first knot in the treatment chain. Libby in her own words 'didn't want to sit in a room full of strangers, holding hands and singing kumbya', This does not mean it's not a great form of help and comfort to some, to Libby, however, this was the worst case scenario. She wanted a scientific, factual approach in a clinical setting; we went back our GP who explained that Libby's ideal setting was very hard to get and the best he could offer was to make a referral (he asked that her school did so also in order to speed up the process). The net result was Libby waiting for nine months before we heard anything about a referral, the only thing we have had is three phone calls asking ME not Libby about her wellbeing.
So MY advice - hound them. Chase the referral and persist until something is done. I understand the services are very stretched and there are children in dire need of them, however there is a massive gap and people do get lost and sometimes forgotten. Don't let it be your child!
3. Finding Help for Yourself:
In the time it took to hear anything from the referral, Libby had been researching and found her own ways of coping. During this search came her first panic attack - the hardest thing to watch your child go through. Just stay composed, talk calmly and slow their breathing down until it stops. We ensured, as part of helping Libby through this, that she got support. Firstly, from us her family, secondly from a strong group of trusted friends that she knew would understand: those two things are the basis of the road to recovery.
Libby found support groups and forums online that she could use to talk to others in her situation, she also used breathing apps and mindfulness. For Libby it was finding her triggers and recognising them. Once she was aware a panic attack was in bound she found a quiet spot started her app and did a breathing exercise to calm her down again. There is support out there if you want to find it. There's support not only for the sufferer but also for you as parents, although it does have some scary parts the internet can actually be quite a good resource.
4. THE GOLDEN RULE:
Talk, don't hide away. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Talking and being open about it is the only way we as a nation will remove the stigma, it's also the best form of helping your child. The one thing I said to Libby was 'Define your mental illness and control it, don't let this illness define you. You have a bright future and you are going to achieve great things. Don't let this thing swallow you up'.
5. The Aftermath:
She followed my advice and she is already doing great things. Not only has she done Marvellous Messy Minds for the BBC (you can see Libby's story on Wednesday 2 March on CBBC at 5.10pm), she has also started a mental health support group within her school. So others don't have to jump through so many hoops to find help. She's changing perceptions, helping herself and helping others. I could not be more proud of her.
Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To read more blog posts on the issue, click here: http://projects.huffingtonpost.co.uk/young-minds-matter/ To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email firstname.lastname@example.org