A few weeks ago I interviewed my dad in order to gain some insight into what it is like to be the parent of someone suffering from Mental Illness. My dad has been a rock for me and he has always been there through the good times and the bad. In the past I was really bad at opening up to him but recently I have found it easier to let him in and allow him to support me in the best way he can.
I asked him the following questions and these are his responses, in his own words:
1. What is it like having a daughter with a Mental Illness?
It’s really difficult. It’s not like a physical illness where the treatments are more obvious and there is an expectation that the person will recover in a certain time frame. With Mental Illness everything takes much, much longer. It can be quite stressful over a long period of time. It’s also more difficult if your child is living somewhere else and you are not able to see her every day.
2. Would you say it is frustrating?
Yes, the whole process is frustrating. Mental Illness is not easy to diagnose as it is complex and there may be several different things happening at the same time. It seems to take a long time to find the right treatment and therapy. It is even more frustrating as you cannot see when it is going to end.
3. Do you ever get used to it?
I think you gain a sort if acceptance. I wouldn’t say you get used to it, but I think you gain an acceptance that this is how it is and how it is going to be for some time. You adapt your life to live with it, but it is very hard because things could change at any moment. You may need to be there to help, if they want it, and that could happen at any time because Mental Illness is unpredictable like that.
4. What is it like having a daughter with an Eating Disorder?
It’s hard because eating is such a big part of socialising. It’s particularly difficult when you don’t live in the same place as your daughter because when you meet, you want to be able to invite her for lunch or dinner. If she comes home after a few months away, you want to make a meal to welcome her. Food is such a big part of life and if she has a problem with eating then it can get in the way of things. You’re also going to see your daughter lose weight, get very thin and look much less healthy. It’s distressing because it’s not something that can be sorted out quickly, overnight, there’s not a simple solution, there isn’t a pill you can take that makes it all go away. It takes quite a long time for that person to recover and that’s what makes it so hard.
5. How did you feel when I was first diagnosed with Depression?
It was a big surprise to begin with because we’ve never had a problem with depression in the family, I had never come across it and to hear that a young person had depression was really a surprise. I also think I found it hard to accept because I didn’t think you appeared to have depression as you didn’t behave in the way that I imagined depressed people to behave. More importantly, as a parent, you begin to wonder if you are responsible in some way. Or if there is something you should have done or shouldn’t have done which might have caused it.
6. What about EUPD? Was it quite scary hearing that diagnosis?
When they told me they had diagnosed you with EUPD it was the first time I had heard of it. It wasn’t until afterwards that I started researching and reading about it and trying to find out what it was. So how did it feel? Well, in some ways it was reassuring to put a label on the illness because something was clearly wrong. It was good to have that clarity so that we could say this is the condition and this is what can be done about it. We could then start to ask about the treatments available. So it was good actually getting to a point where it was described as something. I have read that with the right therapy and a willing patient there is a very good chance that the illness can be cured.
7. When did you become aware of my Eating Disorder?
For a long time you covered it up so well and I wasn’t really conscious that this was going on. It was probably when you were away at University and we saw you less. We’d take you out for meals and you would be eating fine but looking thinner. So it took me quite a while to notice the disorder because you hid it.
8. What advice would you give a parent of a child with any Mental Illness?
It’s difficult to be specific as each case is different. The first thing is not to have any sort of hang-ups or be embarrassed about seeking psychiatric or psychological help. Also try and read about the disorder as much as possible to understand what is going on. I found the health service very, very slow. I don’t know what advice to give on that but maybe you need to be quite persistent if things don’t seem to be moving. You really just have to keep on going. And provide all the support you can and just be there as much as you are able.
9. What advice would you give to parents whose children are shutting them out?
You have to be patient and leave it up to them. There are probably things you will never know. I think the longer you can spend with them or around them, the greater chance there is that the young person will open up or a time will come when they are willing to speak. And very often you will ask them how they are and they’ll bite your head off because they don’t feel like speaking. You’ve really got to wait until they are ready to share something with you. And you have to think about creating opportunities to spend some time with them. A simple example is going out for a walk in the country, and we’ve done that a lot. That’s been a great opportunity because it’s away from distractions and we’re in a private place. Nobody can overhear and it just opens up that space where you can have freedom to talk as much or as little as you want. Hopefully the young person will take advantage of that but you cannot force it.
10. Any other comments or advice?
I think a parent needs to find a way of staying positive. You’ve got to find a way of helping yourself and supporting the rest of the family as well as the young person with the illness. You’ve got to keep your outlook optimistic through good self-management. That could be just giving some time to yourself. Don’t give up on the things that you enjoy because you’ve got to keep your own spirits up and you need to do that for the benefit of your son or daughter. So I think it is important to look after yourself and try to keep yourself in a positive place, which then means you’re in a good position to provide the support when it is needed. And don’t neglect other members of the family, particularly siblings, because they have needs as well. So you’ve got try and get that balance right.
So thats my Dad’s take on Mental Illness, hopefully some parents will find this helpful. And as always, thanks for reading.