Eighteen years ago, my mum took me to our local doctor, concerned about my sudden strange behaviour since finishing my final high school exams. Taking one look at me, his first reaction was to tell Mum that I was obviously under the influence of drugs.
When she told him she didn’t think I would take drugs (which I never have) – he made a sarcastic remark about parents like her having “no idea at all.”
Three days later, after ordering brain scans, CAT scans and a battery of other medical tests, the local hospital concluded I was having my first acute manic episode.
This incident sprung to mind today as I read an article in the Shepparton News about HeadSpace – Australia’s youth mental health foundation – running courses in country Victoria next month to help parents identify and intervene early with the mental health needs of their children.
As Headspace says to parents and carers on their website: “Recognising signs is the first step toward getting [your children] help.”
I couldn’t agree more.
If it wasn’t for my parents and then boyfriend (now my loving husband!) – my local GP may have dismissed the signs of my first manic episode as a teenager experimenting with drugs. It was my parents who told him of my family history of Bipolar Disorder and the incredible stress I’d been under the weeks prior during Year 12 exams.
As parents, we are our children’s advocates: if they start wheezing, we take them to the Doctor. If they are struggling at school, we book a time to speak to their teacher. So why wouldn’t we be on the lookout for signs that they are struggling with depression, anxiety or displaying other out of character behaviours.
Nobody knows our children better than us. And we need to be aware of the symptoms of mental illness and take them seriously.
Parents in Shepparton know this better than most. Despite the idyllic setting, this regional centre has some of the highest rates of youth suicide in Victoria. They have learnt that mental illness is the hidden killer.
Check out Headspace’s excellent mental health resources for parents and youth at www.headspace.org.au