When Your Child’s Mental Health is a Concern

There is much more awareness of mental health in adults these days.

Celebrities are talking about it, it is much less of a taboo and the NHS spends an estimated 5.5 million pounds a week on prescription antidepressants!

We are well versed now-a-days to look out for signs of depression and other mental health struggles in our friends and loved ones like less interest in life, low mood, not interested in food or socialising and perhaps showing signs of stress or anxiety.

We can talk to them, encourage them to seek help and generally keep an eye out for them.

But what if you are worried about your child’s mental health? I have had concerns about my daughter’s mental health for years.

She was a chatty, happy toddler who loved cuddles and playing with her little figures. However, when she started nursery everything changed and I watched my chatty and happy toddler withdraw and start to struggle with food.

I was told she was just adjusting to the change and it was just a phase but part of me still worried. She had no friends in nursery and would move away as soon as another child came near her.

She never spoke in nursery and never joined in with snack. She never smiled while she was there either. It was heart-breaking!

I was told she was just shy. I decided she was perhaps not used to being around other children so I tried toddler groups.

She hated those too and clung to me like her life depended on it. It was such a trauma I stopped taking her in the end.

Just before her fifth birthday she was formally diagnosed with autism and I thought this explained everything.

No-one ever talks about children having mental health struggles or anxiety at age 5 so I kept my concerns to myself.

She never grew out of it though.

She was miserable at school and refused to eat or drink there. She never spoke there and withdrew even more than she had before.

My husband has depression and I watched as my five year old daughter seemed to show so many of the signs he had yet no-one seemed to notice apart from me.

One night I decided to go out to an event at her school.

It was a critical moment in my child’s life as her anxiety about being away from me hit a new level and she took a massive panic attack and struggled to breathe.

My husband called me and I came home right away. Once I was home she settled but for months and months afterwards she refused to leave my side.

I took her to the GP who said it was just the change with starting school and not to worry.

I often wonder if an adult had went with the same symptoms whether the reaction of the GP would have been different.

The GP did refer my daughter to the child and adolescent mental health service though (CAMHS) and she was one of the lucky ones whose referral was actually accepted.

Statistics range from 1 in 5 to 1 in every 3 referrals to CAMHS being refused. Again could you imagine if that level of mental health referrals were refused for adults in mental health crisis?

Did you know that when a child is referred to CAMHS with signs of anxiety or depression or other mental health struggles that the first assumption that is always made is that it is the parents fault? It is awful!

My daughter is now 9 and we have been seeing various people to support my daughter’s mental health struggles for four years now.

In all that time no-one has actually worked with or spoken to my daughter on her own and 90% of the time appointments are just for me.

While I understand I have a huge role in supporting her I do think they often forget that it is primarily my daughter who is struggling, not me!

If my husband went to see the GP or a councillor and they said they wanted to work with me instead I know he would be mighty angry and upset at that, yet for children it seems that they should be ignored while the parent has to attend parenting classes.

My child’s mental health struggles will still be there regardless how many parenting classes I do.

Mental health in children is a huge concern and some figures suggest that as many as one in ten children have such significant struggles with their mental health that it affects their learning, eating, focus and ability to cope.

Children CAN and DO have mental health struggles just the same as adults. We cannot ignore this.

If you are worried about your child’s moods, appetite, resilience, anxiety, or ability to concentrate, do see your GP, do talk to your child’s school.

A New Furry Pal

I know that sounds contradicting, early on but well after his diagnosis. To be more clear, it was when he was around 2 years of age.

It was just a fragile point in time, when I knew he would be introduced to his big boy wheelchair and his few friends would be setting on their own ways with walking and school.

I wanted to beat “negativity” to the punch. If he felt sad or different, I wanted to have something there for him to love.

What I wasn’t thinking about, was his age. At two, Oliver was soon to meet his new baby brother and life would definitely be too busy for another addition, even if furry and cute.

What I did not know, was that Oliver would find that love and friendship in his little brother. Helping mommy care for him, giving and sharing cuddles with him, and building a bond stronger than anything!

I could not have asked for Oliver to be a better brother than he is to Theodore and Aaden (his older brother).

As we are now approaching Oliver’s 4th birthday, I revisited the idea of a companion pet.

It definitely seemed to be better timing, and Oliver was at a better place of understanding what a pet is and the responsibilities that came with one.

Our problem though, was that being matched with a therapy or companion pet, came with application processes and time, and lots of money.

Most of the time, these organizations help you start a fundraiser to raise the amount, but $15,000+ was just too far for us to introduce with the risk that Oliver may or may not take to this animal.

So I did my research, dug far and wide throughout the internet and questionnaires.

Finally, I found the perfect match that would best benefit Oliver, and blend with our family on all levels including personality and traits.

The Goldendoodle. Immensely smart, anti-shedding which is good for allergies, and all around a mellow dog. We knew it would be perfect, so all we had to do was find the perfect puppy!

It did not take long to look around and get matched with this little girl. The runt of the litter, so to speak. The last one to be chosen…. By us!

Since bringing her home, her temperament has been amazing. She takes it nice and easy around Oliver, allowing him to adjust and get use to this new face.

Although we have encountered times of fright, every now and then Oliver will express how much he loves her.

We have starting training her at home, successfully getting her to sit and potty outside, and we will soon start training with a certified trainer.

This new furry friend brings responsibility, stress at times, but so much love and such a deeper meaning for this family than just a family pet.

The Struggle is Real

What started out as a bit of a cough and snuffle has rapidly developed into a very nasty bug indeed; he’s already on antibiotics for an infection and we are horribly aware that if he doesn’t show signs of picking up soon then IV’s will be necessary.

This is not a route we would like to go down, mostly because I don’t want to see my boy that poorly and secondly because Sam hates having IV’s (he’s brilliant at removing them… honestly, it looks like something small has been slaughtered).

While we can do something about the bacterial infection, a virus just has to run its course; calpol and ibuprofen being dosed regularly.

But one thing we have no control over are Sam’s seizures. Today my poor, poor little chap has been battered by them.

As we’ve entered the evening, my boy is twitching, jerking and lashing out with the seizure activity, tears rolling down his beautiful little face. And I am utterly powerless to do a d*mn thing about it to help him.

For all those who love someone with epilepsy or any other form of seizure, the struggle to know how to help is most definitely real.

Its times like this when you realise the comfort that a cuddle from Mum or Dad can bring – Sam loves his cuddles, always has, and while Mum is usually preferred for general snuggling, I struggle to hide my emotions seeing my boy suffering like this, so its Daddy he wants to be held by.

Daddy is his hero; strong, calm and always there when he’s needed.

I read something on Facebook the other day, the nights are long but the years are short.

And its spot on; when my child is unwell, frightened, or just sobbing and I don’t know why or can’t help, the minutes drag by like hours and the hours feel like days.

And yet, in a matter of weeks my tiny, early baby boy will be 7 years old. It only feels like yesterday that I first held him, utterly exhausted after 13 hrs of induced labour but completely elated and helplessly in love with this little person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the parent of a medically fragile, complex little warrior like Sam or a neurotypical, healthy child; the strength of a parents love can move mountains when needs be.

But this evening, I’d settle for being able to comfort my little boy so he can finally relax enough to get to sleep.

The struggle may well be real, but even superstars and their parents need to sleep, sometimes.

Fear of the, “F-word”.

Reports of hospitals running out of IV bags, people dying from the flu, children passing from it, vaccines being sold out, has sent me to be a dormant little crab in my home.

I was even nervous sending my step-son to school every day, knowing the germs festering in that building!

Every day he would come home talking about who went home that day with a fever, cough, or other symptom. All I could do, was stress hand washing and staying away from anyone who seemed ill.

Now I don’t know that protocol on how long flu season lasts, but I thought we were doing pretty well until he came home one day claiming his throat was hurting.

This momma busted out with the gloves, face masks, sanitizer, and Emergen-C.

We literally had to quarantine him, until he was on his antibiotic long enough, to not be contagious anymore. (He was on an antibiotic, because he ultimately tested positive for strep).

My fear was everyone getting sick, including my one year old, but my HUGE fear was my son Oliver getting sick.

Oliver is diagnosed with spina bifida and a few other diagnosis, but is just at a predisposition where illnesses hit harder than they would any other person in our household.

Because of his diagnosis, he also has a VP shunt, which is placed in his skull to drain the excess fluid off his brain and in to his belly.

A lot of shunt failures occur, due to infection which could likely start from any infection from another part of the body.

I remember him suffering from a serious UTI once, that landed us in the hospital, and we had to start an antibiotic to make sure his shunt did not catch infection as well.

With hospitals being jam packed with sick patients suffering from the flu, and shortages occurring, I could not risk Oliver catching this virus.

Let alone the fact that we do not vaccinate for it, because the risk of latex allergy.

Although it is hard to know when your child may just have a common cold or something more serious like the flu, it is always best to keep them home and be safe than risk getting other kiddos sick.

I may be that random, few and far between family that has a child with higher risks coming from a virus like the flu, but we try to take the same precaution with children just the same.

The flu season has been nothing short of scary this year, and that is why is has been the scariest F-word to hit this year!

It Can’t Just Be Me… Can It?

Medical issues and disabilities aside, Sam is a happy 6 year old.

But there is always a gnawing sadness deep in the pit of my stomach that he will always be an only child.

As a society we don’t talk about fertility issues nearly as much as we should.

I have known friends struggle through infertility; whether conceiving is problematic, of whether carrying a pregnancy proves to be unattainable.

I’ve cried with friends who have lost yet another pregnancy, and been there as they talked about how desperately they want to be a Mum.

Or Dad.

It works both ways.

I’ve seen SN friends fall pregnant and go through a very difficult 9 months with additional tests, fear and all the worries a complex condition in the family brings.

The joy when a child who safely arrives is palpable – even through a computer screen!

But it isn’t always a happy ending.

SN parents have seen the dark side of parenthood, and on occasion it waves back.

For us, falling pregnant wasn’t an issue.

I still vividly remember every second of miscarriage too.

The fear that then crept into the next pregnancy that history would repeat.

We now have our little boy and he is nothing short of a miracle and more important to us than oxygen.

Even with all his issues there is so much to be happy and thankful for.

For us, not having more children was a difficult decision we actively made, rather than the choice being made for us; Sam is awesome but we are not any closer to understanding what actually caused his problems.

Sure, we know the physical issue is that his brain didn’t form.

But the, “Why”? That’s a different matter.

Pregnancy for me was brutal, leaving me with more than a few long-term issues.

While I would love another child, there are serious risks to my physical (and mental) health that we can’t ignore.

And with a medically complex child already who needs both parents’ full attention to meet his needs, we decided it wasn’t a risk that was worth taking.

Many of our friends in the SN community have had more children, but for us this was the right decision.

It’s a kind of self-imposed infertility.

And while the decision has been made it doesn’t stop the sadness from bubbling up occasionally, when someone announces a pregnancy for example.

I’m not broody in any way but I feel that my boy is missing out somehow.

And while I am more than grateful for everything we have, the knowledge that I will never again bring another life into this world will be one of the greatest sadnesses of my life.