My experience of supporting my daughter with mental health difficulties

Local mental health services are marking Children's Mental Health Week by sharing stories from young people and their families who have been affected by mental health difficulties. 

For a parent of a child with a mental health condition, it can be a very upsetting and difficult time. From the fear of taking that first step and going to your GP, waiting for assessments and starting treatment, it can be very challenging.

We spoke to Claire, not her real name, a parent of a young person who has experienced mental health difficulties since a young age: "Abigail was 11 years old when we first noticed her struggling with her mental health. The first signs were her being anxious a lot of the time and only wanting to wear certain clothes.

"I took her to the doctors and expressed my concerns about her anxiety and the little rituals she had started to do. We were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) but unfortunately it took a long time to get our first appointment and by then, Abigail was stuck in a really bad place, doing lots of rituals, which was making normal life almost impossible for her.

"Once we got an appointment with CAMHS it was such a relief to get some professional help. Abigail was diagnosed with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can make her feel uncomfortable in lots of situations due to having a lack of confidence. 

"It was a slow process but Abigail did start to improve, which we think was helped by the fact that she built a really good relationship with her psychologist. Unfortunately she suffered a relapse and had to spend some time in a residential mental health hospital but during this period her psychologist was a great support and helped all of us to get through this difficult time.

"The experience of trying to get a diagnosis for Abigail and finding ways to help her has affected us all as a family. Even her grandparents and other close family members, because at the time, we just didn’t know how to help her or to deal with what she was going through. It made it difficult to plan anything because we didn't know how long it might take to get out of the house. Some days we couldn’t get out the house at all, which was very upsetting and difficult to deal with. It sometimes felt impossible to live with.

"Five years on, Abigail has just turned 16 and is doing really well. She has been so brave and continued to work hard to deal with her OCD.

We asked Claire what she learnt from this difficult time: "My advice for other families would be to take any little symptoms seriously and seek help as soon as you can. You might think they will just go away or won’t get any worse but it is always worth getting some professional advice, just in case. 

"Looking at the support that Abigail has received and the difference this has made to her life shows just how important it is to get treatment early. If you leave it too long it just gets worse and harder to deal with. So be brave - go and speak to someone and let them help you."

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust provides specialist mental health and learning disability services across the South East. They have developed specific websites for their CAMHS services in Hampshire and Sussex, which have information, tips and resources to help young people and families with mental health difficulties and other challenging life issues. Go to www.hampshirecamhs.nhs.uk and www.sussexcamhs.nhs.uk