Six months before her twelfth birthday, my daughter started suffering from anxiety. This rapidly progressed to severe depression (despite early intervention that included counselling and medication).
Our family life changed dramatically as we struggled to deal with what was happening. I went from being a busy, working mum to full time carer. It wasn’t a choice. My child was severely ill. I had to take care of her.
By now, my daughter had stopped speaking and was so severely ill she was unable to dress herself or do any of the basic tasks we take for granted. She no longer attended school, she was barely eating and lost so much weight we thought she’d have to be fed through a tube. She was severely suicidal and was admitted to hospital on several occasions.
For the first few months, my employer couldn’t have been more understanding. My boss was hugely supportive and I was able to take the time I needed to look after my daughter.
It wasn’t long, however, before the questions started. Suddenly, I felt under enormous pressure to justify what was happening. Worst of all, I was being asked questions that had no easy answers:
When are you coming back?
The simple answer is, I have no idea. My daughter has been ill for six months now. She’s showing slight signs of improvement, but nothing so dramatic I’m able to predict exactly when she’ll be well enough for me to go back to work.
When will the anti-depressants work?
Any parent of a depressed child will understand why this is a difficult question to answer. Finding medication that works with children is challenging. It’s difficult to get the dosage right, you may have to try several different types of medication, and the side effects are horrific. These include increased suicidal thoughts and tendencies, sleep problems and extreme nausea.
If your child is already depressed, chances are they already have suicidal thoughts, sleep problems and difficulty eating. Taking a medication that exacerbates all of this isn’t what any parent wants for their child.
And, of course, anti-depressants are only part of the cure. When – or if – the medication starts working, my daughter won’t suddenly be ‘okay’. She will need intensive counselling to help address the crippling anxiety that triggered her depression in the first place.
What caused her depression?
Oh my word… if only I had an easy answer to this one. Depression can be caused by any number of factors. These include trauma, genetic factors, abrupt life changes, or simply being someone who finds life too difficult from time to time.
We are starting to understand why my daughter became as ill as she did. But I’m sure we’ll never fully comprehend the connections between the different underlying causes that all contributed to her illness.
A resolution, of sorts
I eventually came to an arrangement with my employer. I know they tried their best to support me. It’s just very difficult for them, and me. They have a business to run; I have a sick child to take care of.
The main thing I’ve learned from the conversations we’ve had is the lack of understanding that still exists in the workplace around mental health issues.
Before my daughter fell ill, I had no real understanding of depression. I didn’t know what a terrible, debilitating, life threatening illness it can be. I had no idea that a person who is severely depressed lives in a state of constant fear and anxiety. I had no clue that, when you are depressed like this, every living second can feel like hell, and all you can think of is how much you want to die.
And I had absolutely no idea how difficult, challenging and terrifying it can be to try to take care of someone who is severely depressed. When this person is your eleven-year-old child, it’s a life changing experience. Watching my child suffer like this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
So when a parent has to suddenly take time off work because their child has mental health problems, employers need to understand this is as serious as any illness can get.
Your employee is watching the child they raised and loved unconditionally, disappear before their eyes. Your employee is grieving for what was, and trying to adjust to a future they never could have anticipated. Your employee needs time and understanding. Please give them that. It will make a huge difference to what they are going through.
Until recently, Anna was a busy, working mum. This all changed when her eleven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with severe depression. Since then, Anna has become passionate about raising awareness of childhood and adolsecent mental health issues. She blogs about her own experiences and hopes this will help other parents in similar situations.
You can find out more about Anna and her family here: https://whenyourchildwantstodie.co.uk/
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