Wednesday 3 February 2021

Making TimetoTalk for mental health

What's it like to bring up a child with additional needs? It can be wonderful, amazing and full of things I never thought possible. But it can also be very tiring and stressful. And as it's Time to Talk Day, the day to think about starting a conversation about mental health,  it seems a good time to share.

My children will no doubt be the greatest achievement of my life. But like many parents, I've had my low moments.  Over a year ago, before the words COVID or lockdown had even entered by daily vocabulary, my life seemed all about getting a specialist placement for my autistic eldest son who also happens to have ADHD.  One day in particular I thought I'd missed a deadline that meant my child wouldn't get a place at a school and I fell to pieces. I screamed, kicked furniture, broke crockery and lay down on the stairs frozen apart from tears dripping off my nose and into the carpet... for an hour.  Thank goodness the kids were at school.  

Stresses these days are different. But they are there, a constant barrage of bad news from the TV before I've even thought about what's going on in my life.   And the event above could well be repeated in the next year as I try and find a placement for our middle child who is even more challenging.. in his behaviour and his school placement.  I literally can't find any secondary school he could go to at the moment.  Finding a placement during lockdown is not something anyone could have imagined having to navigate. 

Fortunately, I talk about this stuff all the time and apart fro some stress, it doesn't have such an impact that I'm unable to operate.. at least most of the time.  About one in four people in the UK have a diagnosed mental health issue, but some stats say as many as undiagnosed. So for many, it's a far bigger story.  Time to Talk is all about breaking the stigma and talking about mental health because struggling with your mental health should be seen as no different to struggling with your.. health health. 

In some ways, we talk more with our family than we did before I think. We probably spend more time facetiming and so on as we don't get to see them.  Perhaps we are more serious when we ask 'how are you?' It's more than a hello.  It's a 'really how are you?'

What have you been doing?
How have you been eating?
Have you been able to get to doctors / appointments/ pharmacies / shops?
How is the partner / children / pet?

Perhaps I should even be more straight forward?  How is your mental health?  I'm happy to ask how their health health is so... why not?

As a carer to my SEN kids I'm more likely to have stresses that impact my health.  Some sources say that the chronic stress of caregiving ages mothers by ten years. Parents of autistic children get sicker, too. A 2012 study found that the parents of children with autism were more likely to get common ailments such as colds, coughs and headaches as a direct result of the increased stresses linked to their caring responsibilities. Parent carers I know directly relate their illness to this stress and anxiety. Not convinced? The NHS even list being a carer as one of potential causes of stress. 

There's things I try to do to cope and I've had lots of helpful suggestions from other SEND parents, but the truth is any one of us can be struggling and we may only know about it if we really ask. 

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