Parenting a child who has depression – Mental Health Matters

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Last September my son left home to begin a new phase of his life at university. Like many mums, I felt a mixture of sorrow, pride, happiness, loneliness, and excitement. I also felt something else.

Fear.

My son has depression, something he’s very open about and shares on his blog. He’d deferred his uni place the previous year, not feeling in the right headspace to go but now…

Now he wasn’t entirely sure but after some medication and therapy, he felt it was now or never.

A few years previously, when his brother had plans to go to uni, I found myself googling student recipes to print out for him, articles on budgeting. This time around I googled suicide statistics for male students.

The results were horrifying.

Men are three times as likely to take their own life than women.  My son hasn’t been brought up with a ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality. As a family, we’ve always talked and he’s openly shared his feelings with me, his mood, his ‘I’ll-never-get-out-of-bed-again days.

But I had a constant gnawing worry – what would happen when I wasn’t there to talk to?

Mostly he manages his condition well. He knows his triggers and has coping strategies in place. His new friends are understanding when he can’t face going out or leaves a gig halfway through.

Mostly he manages.

But there are times he doesn’t.  Times when I check his Instagram story and know from the music he’s listening to that his mood has plummeted.  Sometimes he’ll come and spend a few days at home, but sometimes he’ll retreat into himself and these are the most terrifying of times for me. The dark voice whispers in my head that it’s all my fault – something I did or didn’t do – while I anxiously trawl through his social media accounts all hours of the day and night. Not because I want to know where he is, but because if he’s posted, I know he’s alive. I study photos he’s been tagged in. How does he look? But how he looks is no indication of how he feels. As he said on his blogyou can’t see mental health, you can’t look in a mirror and see the damage being caused.”

And living with that fear. The fear that one day it might all get too much for him creates such a feeling of utter helplessness, of hopelessness it’s a constant battle to balance giving him space to grow, with checking he’s okay. I try not to plague him with endless calls and messages (often I plague him with endless calls and messages).

A few nights ago he sent me an email completely out of the blue, completely out of character. It was a long and lovely message about his brothers and me, and if it had come from one of my other children I would have burst with happiness. As it was, a cold dread wrapped itself around my heart. Immediately I rang him thinking something that no parent should ever have to consider.

‘Is this a suicide note?’

‘Umm, no. I can see why you’d think that, but no. I can promise I will never do that,’ he said with sincerity, and he meant it. But I’ve worked in mental health. I know those long, dark hours where sufferers of depression convince themselves it would be a good thing if they weren’t around anymore. That everyone would be better off. Happier.

That is never the case.

My son raises awareness of mental health where he can, particularly amongst males.  I’m immensely proud of him for being so open and honest. Despite the despair he often feels, he has a desire to help others.

He said of his own journey “I went through a phase where I would drink more in the hope it would fix the problem. I can’t begin to explain how badly this impacted my mental health, constantly throwing yourself into a situation you don’t want to be in is crazy, essentially what I was doing was running as fast as I could into a wall, but every week running slightly faster and hoping that the harder I hit it, the better it would be.”

I hope that one day he stops running.

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This was a raw and emotional write I’ve shared with the permission of my son. If you or your family are affected by mental health issues you can access UK mental health services (including emergency support) here and in the US here, or speak to your doctor.

 

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23 thoughts on “Parenting a child who has depression – Mental Health Matters

  1. My god, I just cried when I read your blog. Last year in june my daughter of 21, half of a twin (not identical twin sister), did a suicide attempt. For us it was a complete surprice… but at least it didn’t. She didn’t tell anyone that she fellt so bad and depressed. (must be half a year at least , from what she told us) When I asked how her exam has been, she said it was OK. But afterwards she confessed that she could never do the exams at all. She was just so lonely at her studio (which she shared with her sister- who has a lot of friends-) and at uni, she didn’t have any friends. I was glad that she finally didn’t commit suicide. She had therapy, of course and still has, but it is slightly getting better. But I recognize your search. I sometimes check her room: isn’t it too clean (it stuck me after the attempt that she cleaned up)? I sometimes send her a kind mail- as she is no person that talks a lot, or a nice film on facebook. Thanks for sharing your story- it is good to hear that other parents are struggling too with similar problems.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this post.
    It is indeed always a worry for any parent, no matter what age your children are.
    you watch their stress, dilemas or social interactions and sometimes all you can do is watch.
    even though my son is married and moving onwards. and my daughter is happy in her life (she suffers panic attacks), you always worry. i know I do.
    Recently my children’s book was reviewed and as i read the comments i suddenly realised that this was how i had dealt with my stress.
    Poetry was my way many years ago…
    we never get over being a stressed sort of character. it is perhaps the way we are, we only learn to deal with it.
    Stress in some way is good for you but too much can take you over the edge.

  3. Mental illness in various forms, shaped my life. There was severe panic attacks, anorexia, depression, self hatred..at 66, I wonder why should I continue? That I’m a burden on my only sibling, that I’ve accomplished nothing in these nearly 7 decades.
    I have been lucky though, found some dear friends, have the most wonderful little dog who rescued me, and have had some amazing breaks. So I continue on.
    Mental illness is not being weak, it’s a real illness but no matter how many people both ordinary and famous speak this truth, there is an undertone that the afflicted should just “do it” as if it’s an athletic event.

  4. Thank you Louise for this beautiful and open post. It seems we share another commonality. My 13 year old son is in moderate depression. I’m fairly new in this arena and at the beginning stages of getting him help. We have checked out fiction books from the library (juvenile and young adult) and are both reading them.

    I do also have those haunting thoughts that I’ve done something wrong in this parenting journey. It rips my heart to shreds to know how lowly he thinks of himself, how disgusted he is with himself at times. My deepest and only wish for him is that he reach a place of peace within himself; acceptance, love and trust of himself. I have not written or talked openly about it as he does not want me “posting” or “writing” about him.

    Thank you for this … One day my son will be in a better space and I, too, shall write about it.

  5. Depression in people you love is very difficult to manage, as are other mental illnesses. My son suffers from PTSD and OCD and it can be hard and sometimes it feels like it is tearing my family apart. He has been in therapy for over 11 years. Recently he stopped and strangely, there seems to be an improvement. Wishing you all the best with your boy

  6. Dear Louise and Kai,
    Thank you so much for this sincere and personal post. I daren’t imagine what goes into my mother’s head when I struggle during low moments, but thanks to this post, I understand her a bit better. I also wanted to tell Kai I admire him for being open with his depression. One post can make a huge difference in someone’s life and so many voices are shushed because depression has a way to make you feel you can’t talk about it.
    Sending you both my best x

Thanks so much for reading!

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