A word from This Mum Runs Charity Partner Parenting Mental Health
TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide
Suzanne Alderson, Community Leader, Change Maker and Advocate for Parents of Children with Poor Mental Health and Founder of This Mum Runs charity partner, Parenting Mental Health shares with us the reason she founded the charity and more about the amazing work they do.
It isn’t the hope of any parent to see their child suffer, and the prospect of having a child with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression isn’t something many of us have ever considered or can begin to grasp. We can read about it in the news, but it’s not going to happen to us, and not to our child. Is it?
I know it wasn’t on my agenda when my daughter, Issy, was born in 2001. Like other parents, I had big dreams and high hopes for my beautiful bundle of joy. But in 2015, her mental health started to decline. She was being bullied at school and growing anxiety impacted on her appetite, sleep and mood. Although I was slowly seeing her quirky, creative beauty slipping away, I naively thought that if I carried on loving and caring without questioning her or digging too deeply, this situation of unknown and unimaginable scale and impact just might slope away in the same manner that it had crept upon us.
But when our doctor told me that my daughter was depressed and suicidal and had a plan to end her life imminently, I had no choice but to face the hard and dark reality and fight for my daughter’s wellbeing and, without being dramatic, her life. She was incredibly fortunate to be seen very quickly by CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, and was wrapped in care to try to take her from crisis onto the long road of recovery.
As a parent, I was overwhelmed and consumed by this unbelievable situation. I was in shock. I felt such a failure, so alone, and so ashamed of what I perceived that I had ‘allowed’ to happen. I sat in the CAMHS waiting room hoping to connect with another parent, desperate to make eye contact and convey my compassion and camaraderie, longing for someone to go through this pain with. None of my friends quite understood the challenge of my daughter’s illness despite their love and care. They couldn’t grasp my fears that I might be asleep when she took an overdose; the constant and unanswered questioning of what I’d done wrong, how would I make it right, and when would this end?; the shame of being a failure as a parent, the one thing I’d always felt I was pretty good at.
No one looked up in the waiting room. They were wounded by the same shame, fear and stigma as me. And I found myself more and more isolated.
One night, sitting on my daughter’s bedroom floor at 3am on suicide watch, I realised I was replaying the moments I’d spent with her as a newborn. As I thought back to the times of nursing her to sleep as a baby, it struck me that I couldn’t be the only parent sitting in their teenager’s room performing a similar act of love. Instead of feeding or rocking my baby, I was watching my 14 year old breathe, willing and wishing her to want to live.
In that moment, something in me shifted. I saw that my shame wasn’t helping me or my daughter and my fears for a future that hadn't yet happened were keeping us stuck. I might not be the SuperMum that I had previously hoped to be, but I had a vital role to play and Issy needed me now more than ever. I had to believe in her and I had to believe in me.
And I had no idea how at the time, but I decided that if we made it through, I would make it my mission to ensure no other parent felt as isolated, ashamed or ill equipped to cope and support their child through poor mental health as I had. About a year after that, as Issy came out of crisis, I started a Facebook group called Parenting Mental Health (PMH). The realisation that I couldn’t be the only parent going through this has been borne out with the numbers of parents we support. That Facebook community is now a registered charity that supports, skills and empowers over 24,000 parents whose children are struggling with their mental health, whether that’s a 10 year old with anxiety or a 19 year old with depression. We also support grandparents, foster carers, aunts, uncles - anyone with a direct interest or responsibility for a child or young person’s wellbeing and welfare.
Just like This Mum Runs, we believe in the power of compassion, connection and community to bring about change. We know that parents have a vital and often overlooked role to play in their child’s mental health. But parenting a child who is struggling isn’t the same as parenting a child with good mental health - it requires a new approach, more patience and presence, and heaps of self compassion. It challenges us as people and parents, pushing our relationships to their limits and making us question everything we thought we knew about parenting. For our child’s sake, we need to challenge our assumptions, reduce our expectations, accept what we’re facing ( unlike me in 2015!), and believe in our child and ourselves. But doing that alone is hard - as I found out - so we offer a safe, judgement free space to explore our experience without shame or self flagellation.
Aside from a 24/7/365 peer support community, we support parents with a range of group and 1-1 support. Our Listening Circles are led by trained facilitators with lived experience and offer emotional support to parents in small groups. We fund places on a range of courses, including the ‘Partnering not Parenting’ course that helps parents create a trusting relationship and a safe emotional space and communicate in a new, connective way with their child when they are struggling with their mental health. We offer 1-1 support through Peer Mentorship and the many talks and events we hold in our 10 subgroups support our own wellbeing, the different stages of our experience and specific challenges. Our website has a range of Guides for parents on everything from what to do when your child has anxiety to supporting siblings.
And delivering on this support requires us to fundraise and increase our profile as the charity that supports parents of children and young people with mental health issues. And that’s why we’re so delighted to have been selected by the TMR community as the charity partner for #Letsglow - thank you so much for recognising our work and the emotional load parents carry, reducing the stigma and opening up the space to connect and say that everything isn’t ok. The #LetsGlow values of slowing down, challenging the norm and taking care of ourselves are essential and transformative for everyone’s mental health and I hope you find time for yourself this weekend. Thank you for supporting PMH.
And finally, to finish where I started, Issy is now 20. She is thriving at university, living independently, and loving life, and she's got compassion, insight and experience beyond her years. And although I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, there are gifts in adversity and there is hope, whatever you’re facing today.
On behalf of all the families we support, thank you so much for choosing Parenting Mental Health - I hope you never need our help, but you’ll be welcomed with open arms, warm compassion and deep understanding if you do.