**This is a press release from MindEd who have just launched an online training portal for families to help promote understanding of and positive response to mental health and wellbeing issues in children and young people. I am sharing this because I think it will be of interest to many in my network. I was a MindEd author on the original project and a keen supporter of this incredible mine of information and support**
Developed with families, for families, new site to transform mental health support for those in difficulty and crisis
A mother has spoken of the guilt and fear faced by her family following the decline of her son’s mental health, in a bid to help other parents who are going through similar times of crisis.
She is sharing her story as part of the launch of a new online resource – MindEd for Families – which comes on the back of the hugely successful MindEd for professionals and volunteers launched in 2014. As well as tackling stigma around poor mental health and giving adults access to information anytime and anywhere, MindEd aims to strengthen coping strategies, resilience and bring forward early effective intervention.
Julia Lofts, a mother from East Sussex and a counsellor herself, has co-written some of the material for the new resource. She talks candidly of the isolation her family felt at the height of her son’s battle with poor mental health and the guilt she felt as a mother for not being able to support him. She said between the ages of 14-19 her son experienced anxiety, depression, an eating disorder and gaming addiction and throughout those five years, she struggled to support him as she “simply didn’t know how to.”
She said: “At 14, around the time my son was going through puberty, he became very edgy. I would hear him screaming a lot, swearing when playing games with friends and he stopped talking to me. Initially I thought it was because he was a teenager. But then he stopped going out altogether and would panic about being with other people. He was worried that people think he is stupid and illiterate. I didn’t know where it all came from.
“He then started gaming a lot and at all times of the day and night. He would stay in bed and not leave his room. He got himself a wireless headset so didn’t even have to get out of bed. He didn’t care about anything – he just wasn’t bothered.
“I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to go out. I wanted him to see friends and be outside in the fresh air like I used to when I was a teenager.”
Julia said it got to a stage where all she thought she could do to help would be to take his computer away but as a result, tensions would heat up quickly and the more they fought, the less they spoke.
At the age of 16 Julia’s son began suffering with depression, started battling an eating disorder and began truanting from school.
She said “He would binge eat. He lived on chocolate and Pepsi and would hide food in his wardrobe. He went from a size 32 to size 40. By the time he reached the age of 18 or 19 he was feeling awful. He had mood swings, he was sweating, he had rashes on his legs and his feet would hurt. He was in agony. He was suffering so much.”
Feeling frightened and not knowing where to turn, Julia started looking up his symptoms on the internet. “I was shocked about the information I read. I got overwhelmed and I blamed myself. I felt guilty because I felt as though I should have taught him better. It started to make me feel angry. I got scared and started to withdraw. I felt I was failing so badly as a parent. Things were getting out of hand.”
Julia is one of several parents to have teamed up with the MindEd Consortium – a group of mental health experts – to develop a brand new online support tool called ‘MindEd for Families’ [www.minded.org.uk/families]. Funded by the Department for Education, the website provides specific advice and guidance aimed at parents and carers seeking support in their parenting who suspect a child is battling a mental health problem.
Launching today, MindEd for Families contains over 35 new bite-sized e-learning topics, individually tailored to equip families with the skills to identify and support a child with a mental health condition. It also provides guidance on mental well-being.
Topics range from ‘the aggressive and difficult child,’ ‘self-harm and risky behaviour,’ and ‘eating problems’ to ‘the Journey,’ ‘keeping ourselves strong’ and ‘child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.’
Julia, who co-wrote one of the new topics, said: “The input we gave as parents was fantastic. I know the pain that other parents are experiencing so it was reassuring to know that I can help others with that pain. As a parent author I can give the reality of what it’s like living with a child going through these difficulties. It’s all practical advice and because we worked with professionals it is also evidenced based. That’s the beauty of MindEd.
“If MindEd was around five years ago, I would have realised that I wasn’t an awful mother and that it doesn’t matter how clever you are it can happen to anyone.”
Julia’s son, who has recently turned 20, has begun turning his life around. He has lost weight, has secured himself a job and is now managing his anxiety and depression.
She said, “I’m a psychotherapist and counsellor with the knowledge and first-hand experience to help teenagers and their parents and yet it still happened in my family. I see the pain parents go through when they can’t get help they so desperately need or not knowing who to ask for help in the first place. So something like MindEd is fantastic. It makes the information accessible and normalises lots of things we all feel so afraid of. I will personally be recommending it to parents I work with.”
Dr Raphael Kelvin, Child Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead for the MindEd programme, said:
“We know that up to three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder and half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Left untreated, these disorders have the power to impact on a child’s education and their ability to interact with others which can have a knock-on effect on employability and their lives as adults. That’s why giving families the knowledge and information to support early effective intervention is essential.
“We would not have been able to develop MindEd for Families without the support of parents and carers themselves. Learning from their experiences and the battles they faced enabled us to identify the key stages of a family’s journey, pin point the information that would be of most use to them and display it in a user friendly format that is most appropriate for parents and families.
“Since its launch in 2014, we had great success with MindEd – the website developed for adults who come into contact with children through the workplace. To date, there have been over 1 million site visits with 24,000 people fully signing up who between them have completed over 60,000 e-learning sessions. We hope that MindEd for Families is equally as successful and most importantly, provides much needed support to families experiencing times of crisis.”
Education and Childcare Minister, Sam Gyimah, the first Minister in the Department for Education with specific responsibility for mental health, said:
“Growing up in today’s world presents all sorts of challenges for our young people – one in ten will experience mental health issues. To stop these issues blighting their life chances it is vital that children get the help they need as soon as possible.
“Parents and families already do a fantastic job of supporting their children but mental illness can be daunting. We want everyone to feel confident they have the information and skills they need to tackle this issue – that’s why we funded this website, which has been designed by families, for families.
“Alongside the government’s £1.4 billion investment in children’s mental health services and our £3 million project with NHS England to link schools better to those services, we can make sure young people get the help they need when they need it.”
Dr Kelvin continues: “To quote Albert Einstein, if we keep on doing what we have always done, we will keep on getting the results we have always got. MindEd for families is a simple tool which if utilised, has the power to help parents to find new and better ways to navigate what’s regarded as being a scary or daunting terrain. It’s like having a mental health & wellbeing sat nav in your hand, always on and freely available.”