Parenting a Child with Mental Illness

I have a child with a mental illness. Just writing that line is hard, but not as hard as it is to parent a child with a mental illness. When we brought our first child home from the hospital, I have to admit that mental illness was one of the possible outcomes I ever thought possible for our child. You think about all the terrible things that could happen, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood illnesses, learning delays, but never mental illness. At least, that was never on our radar. It all started when our oldest was 11. He had always been our sensitive one. He hated injustice and took everything quite personally. But he was so emotionally in touch. He felt things and felt them deeply. He was empathetic to his peers from a young age and made great relationships. People called him and still do call him, an old soul. Even as a toddler he was like a little old man. He would say hi to everyone who looked in his general direction. Although he was sensitive, he was outgoing, he made friends, he was even, what I would call a leader. One day when he was 11 I got a call from school saying that he had told a friend that he was going to kill himself and that he had a plan.

Our world turned upside down. We went from having a curious, wide eyed middle schooler to having a child who’s spark had gone out. He started having panic attacks and refusing to sleep and eventually he was admitted to a child psychiatric ward. When he came home we continued therapy and his new meds. Life has been a rollercoaster since that Friday in early February 4 years ago. He’s now 15 and still suffers with major depression and anxiety and is under Camhs. Every day can feel like a struggle, for him and for us. Sleep is unpredictable, even with sleep medication. His anxiety keeps him (and me) up all night at times and GCSE year is proving to be a real struggle. He's academically bright, brilliant even, but the anxiety stops him from showing his true ability. And the depression. Oh the depression, taking him to a place so dark you can see it in his eyes. Low, low, low. And there's nothing that can coax him out of it. Only time really helps and the meds that keep him somewhat balanced, sometimes. Parenting a child with a mental illness is constantly teetering on the edge, wondering if the fine line between them being ok and not is going to be challenged by the next thing you say or do, or decision you make. Wondering if you should have said that, or wondering what they’re feeling, doing, thinking. It’s constantly calling camhs, the GP, the school to ask for help and support. Parenting a child with a mental illness is also really lonely. It can feel so isolating because unless you have a child with mental health issues, there’s no way you could understand. Parenting a typically developing child is tough and takes a village. Parenting a child with mental illness can feel like you've moved into the most remote area in the world. The sleepless nights, the nights I lie on my sons floor, the struggle I see in him and my new ability to know a real smile from a fake one. The mornings trying to pry him from his bed, coaxing him out with promises of feeling better for trying. The drive to school to get him early because it’s all too much. The look he gives me when I get there, wishing he could do it. The school receptionist, head of house, safeguarding lead, all knowing me by my first name. We do have bright moments, moments when I forget for a second, when we can all breathe and settle for a moment. Moments I see a real smile on his face, if just for a moment - a moment of hope, of relief. Moments when he's doing something that he really loves, those moments where he seems alive, just for a short time. The journey has been described to me as a storm. You’re always somewhere in that storm. Maybe you’re just entering it and things are getting rocky. Maybe you’re in the midst and you can’t see straight, or maybe you’re coming out the other side and the sun is in the distance. Wherever you may be in the storm, I want to hold out my hand to you. You don't have to live in that remote area anymore. The Parenting Place has started an online support group for those parenting children with mental health struggles. You don’t have to be alone on your journey. You can find us on Facebook - The Parenting Place Mental Health Support Group and you can find more information about our zoom support group here: Please join us, we can support each other through the storm.

If you're local to Portishead, there is also an in person support group that meets on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday, each month from 8pm-9:30pm at Redcliffe Methodist Church, Redcliffe Bay, Portishead. For more information contact Catherine on

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