When I was growing up, I was brought up to understand, and to be understanding of mental health issues.
My mum has bipolar disorder, and so I was always taught about it by her. I watched her experience episodes of depression and mania, which helped me to learn more about it, and to be empathetic, compassionate and supportive.
I have an amazing relationship with my mother. We are best friends (though we argue like worst enemies occasionally), and so when I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 19, I knew how to handle things. I knew what to ask at my psychiatric appointments — letting them know that I was interested in different types of medications, asking whether they would have side effects, asking about which symptoms to watch out for to recognise hypomania or depression.
I also had her support there. She came with me to the GP appointment to push for me to get help for my mental health, after several breakdowns. She came with me to that first psychiatric appointment — the one I felt so nervous for because I imagined scary doctors in white coats (which didn’t happen, FYI).
She has always been my support system. The person I go to when I need to talk. The person I go to for help.
I see so many people say that they have parents who ‘don’t understand’ mental health issues, and this makes me sad. I can’t imagine a world where mental health wasn’t a prominent conversation in my life. And I wish more people had the opportunities to learn that I was given
I will make sure that my son has these opportunities. He has just turned one year old. Knowing that he is going to be learning from me for years to come, I will bring him up to understand mental health issues. To be empathetic and compassionate. To know what to do when someone is struggling. To know what to do if he is struggling. And to know that he can always come to me for help.
It’s important to me that he knows this, because I don’t ever want him to struggle in silence. And I want a son who looks out for other people, who is kind and caring, who can be a shoulder to cry on when someone can’t talk to their own parents.
I also think it’s important for my son to be educated on my own mental health issues. I will never be reliant on him, nor will he ever be put in a situation where he has to support me, but I want him to be aware, because I want him to know that mummy has a condition that she cannot help. Just like any other condition, it’s not one to hide. Plenty of parents talk to their children about physical conditions — and mental health conditions shouldn’t be ones to hide.
But I think seeing how I get through life with a mental health condition will help him know to always be kind to people, because you never know what someone is going through.
Though you can’t always spot the signs, I’d like him to know that there are signs to spot.
Conversations around mental health are becoming more and more prevalent, but I worry we may have missed the boat just a little bit with this generation of children, because really, the true conversation and campaigns have only just started.
Which is why we need to be teaching about mental health in schools and in other areas of education, not just as a one-off workshop, but on a regular basis. Mental illness is something that can affect anyone of any age — it is not just adult-centric.
It would make me incredibly proud to have a child who looks out for others, and that’s something all parents should aim for.
Of course, I want a happy child, and I know that I can give him that because he will always be safe and loved more than he will ever know. But I also want a child who is caring and kind — and I think increasing the conversation around mental health issues can do that.