The final blog in this series from the point of view of my support system is focusing on my parents, on what it was like to have a child with mental illness growing up and how they cope.
When I was a teenager I swung between hypomania and deep depression over and over again, with hardly any stable periods in between. I self-harmed a lot and there were a lot of suicide attempts: it was a very difficult time for all of us. We didn’t get the help we needed from professionals and didn’t know how to deal with it as we had no education on mental illness and didn’t understand what I was going through.
As I got older I started to get the help I needed; I am now receiving great treatment and have my Bipolar as under control as possible with an illness like this. I asked my parents some questions about what it’s like having a daughter with Bipolar Disorder, their answers are below:
What were the early signs that something was ‘wrong’?
“Personality seemed to change. At the time we thought it was just a result of growing up and being a teenager. For example, becoming less co-operative, stubborn, even aggressive at times. Later on, mood swings became more serious and developed into self-harm.”
None of us knew what was happening with me, I certainly didn’t understand why I didn’t seem to be able to control my moods or how I was feeling; it was a scary time.
Would you say there was adequate support from professionals to help you deal with your daughter’s struggles?
“We had little knowledge of mental health issues in general, and bipolar in particular, so relied on our GP. As things developed, mental health specialists did get involved however if we had known what was causing our daughter’s issues it might have been possible to get help earlier.”
I definitely feel that we were let down by the professionals who were supposed to help us; the fact that I didn’t start to receive the help I needed until I was in my twenties is unacceptable.
What support do you wish had been available?
“There is still a stigma around mental health, although thankfully people are becoming more willing to discuss mental health issues. There also seems to be more information available than there used to be, however you obviously need to have an idea what sort of illness is involved to be able to find appropriate information and support.”
Perhaps if we had been given the help and guidance that we needed from professionals, my family would have been better able to support me and I would have been able to get my illness under control.
Do you view your daughter differently since her diagnosis?
“Now that we understand what has affected our daughter as a teenager and young adult, I think we can both be more understanding and supportive. This wasn’t always easy when we didn’t know what was behind some difficult and challenging behaviour. My main regret as a father is that I wasn’t able to be more supportive earlier, because of my lack of knowledge about how to respond. One of the worst things for a parent is to see your child in pain, and not feel able to do anything to help.”
What have you learnt from your experience with your daughter’s mental illness?
“To take time to find out what is behind any symptoms like mood changes or challenging behaviour. To do this before judging or acting on the assumption that what is happening is simply ‘bad behaviour’.”
How does having a daughter with Bipolar Disorder effect your day to day life?
“When we first found out about the diagnosis it felt a bit daunting. We didn’t know what we could do to help, and how best to react. Now that we have more knowledge we are able to be more open with each other. It is a big help to know that although our daughter lives a long way away from us, she has a loving partner who shares her life day to day. I think their lovely dogs help as well.”
I think that now myself and my parents have a healthy and open dialogue about my illness, and they are always there to support me when I need them which I am unendingly grateful for.
What is the most difficult part for you about your daughter having Bipolar Disorder?
“It seems quite unpredictable at times. Although she will always be ‘our little girl’ we have to respect her maturity and ability in managing her condition, rather than trying to second guess what is best. We don’t have expertise in bipolar disorder and our daughter seems very well informed and increasingly able to manage her condition.”
I would agree with this; now that I have access to appropriate help I have been able to manage my Bipolar much more effectively day to day.
What advice would you give other parents going through the same thing?
“* If you’re aware that your child has a mental health issue of some sort, find out as much as you can and help your child to get help. Mental Health services seem to be variable across the country so you shouldn’t always just accept what is on offer if it doesn’t seem to be helping.
* When possible keep talking and discussing the issues, although there may be times when you need to step back a bit.
* Whatever happens make sure that your child knows that you love and care about her / him.
* Be there, be honest about your feelings as well – there are likely to be some difficult moments however you can choose to respond in a helpful way.
* Maintain a positive relationship, once your child reaches 18 she / he will be classed as an adult and medical professionals might not involve you as much in their care or support. So the continuing relationship that you have developed becomes even more important.
Even when things get difficult, you will look back and remember that the best thing in your life has been to bring a child into the world, to look after her / him, and see that child grow up into a strong, wonderful adult.”