It was as an adult that I began to really think about the mental health issues I suffered as a child; the invisible illness that plagued my youth, and in fact my life. As an adult I desperately wanted to understand my own mind, why I feel, think and act the way I do. I believe it is an essential part of adulthood to address your mental health and to appreciate the importance of our own mental health.
Since my youth, society has come leaps and bounds in regards to dealing with the massive mental health issues in our world, but we still have a long way to go. And the mental health services for children is one area that needs massive reform. After having my own children something changed in me.
I think it’s impossible not to change after going through something so
monumental and life changing as motherhood or parenthood. You see the world through different eyes you begin to look at everything differently.
My anxiety rapidly accelerated after
having children, after the birth of
my first child I suffered terribly with post-natal depression and it took me into a very dark place.
I was very fortunate that my mother recognised my deterioration and she intervened, she brought me to live with her and began to take care of me and my premature son, she took me to the doctors and I was prescribed anti-depressants.
But she gave me something more than that, she showed me how to be a mother, she gave me confidence in my abilities and she helped me laugh again, taught me to not take everything so seriously; to enjoy motherhood. Around the same time, my sister burnt her hand very badly and this caused some tension between my mother and sister as I think she felt she needed my mother more – which leads to the question - do we view physical health over mental health?
Do we value mental health less?
As I recovered from post-natal depression and began to have some confidence in what I was doing as a parent, I began a process of soul searching. I saw my mental health as a journey and I traced back my issues to around the age of nine – about the same time my parents marriage crumbled, I’d be a fool not to see the correlation between the two events. I developed what I now know to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with a sprinkle of anxiety. But back then I had no idea what was happening to me, it was a slow process, I would invent irrational rituals that I felt compelled to perform for whatever random reason, these rituals I believed would protect me from, and prevent catastrophic events that I had created and built up in my mind. I was a child full of anxiety and fear and as the adult events around me spiralled out of control, I felt my compulsions and obsessions protected me and helped me feel more in control.
But I believe most of our behaviours and traits can be traced back to events in childhood. These formative years mould and shape us into the adults we grow into, with an equal mixture of nature versus nurture.
That is why I feel so passionate about protecting children. I was once again confronted with children’s mental health when my son showed signs of anxiety and depression at a very young age. He was always a sensitive child and prone to strong emotions, as was I as a child and I even wondered if I had in some way passed on my anxiety to him. I understood him so well and I could often sense when he was going to have an overwhelming emotional response, even to something mundane and trivial. When he was seven, I took him to join a karate class as he had shown some interest and I hoped it might install some confidence in him and help improve his emotional problems. As I was observing the class, the teacher began to show my son some quite simple techniques and my son was struggling with the moves. I could feel his heightened emotional state, I could see his eyes filling up, the teacher perhaps sensed this and began joking with him, but as my son began laughing, I could tell he was still very overwhelmed and struggling with his emotions, still on the verge of tears.
As a family we have open conversations about how we feel and when my son would talk about his struggles, I became concerned. I made a doctor’s appointment and explained our predicament. I asked what help was available, perhaps counselling or behavioural therapy to teach him techniques to help control his emotions better. The doctor, after speaking with my son agreed he seemed down and was displaying signs of anxiety, he then told me that despite that fact, there was no help available and that unless he was displaying signs of behavioural problems such as unruly behaviour, there was nothing he could do. He then proceeded to ask me “have you ever told him not to be depressed?”
I actually struggled to hide my amazement and it took a lot for me not to reply sarcastically “oh no, I’d never thought of that!”
We both walked away very disappointed as my son was hoping to have someone to talk to outside of the family, I often think it is easier for children to talk when their parents aren’t around, it's more freeing. I think my son felt guilty talking about it in front of me as I think he could sense my sadness at his words.
We made a decision as a family to always be open in discussing our mental health, and in my parenting I always put mental health at the forefront. I later went back to the doctors and insisted on seeing someone else, he was more sympathetic but agreed there isn’t a lot of help out there for children. He gave me a list of charities that might offer some assistance.
As an actor and writer its important I understand how people operate, it’s a prerequisite for the job, I have to be able to sympathise and empathise and I am certainly aware of how scary this world can be for a child. As adults we struggle but we seem to expect children to be able to cope - to just get on with it and we convince ourselves children are resilient. But life is very confusing for children, things that seem minor and inconsequential for us are a huge deal to them. Things like the first day of school, a visit to the dentist, or a change in routine can all be terrifying for kids.
We have so far to go in regards to children’s mental health and the services available to them. When I have suffered with depression, I was offered help – talking therapies, behavioural therapies and counselling, why then, are those services not readily available for children who are struggling with mental health problems?
That is why resources like Mindstars are a god send. We need to work together for the sake of children, we need more help and support – especially in these frightening and uncertain times.