Why do people struggle to understand that children can also suffer from anxiety and depression?
One in six children will experience anxiety at some point. That means that in a class of 30 children, five will experience some type of anxiety. It’s more than just the general worrying about tests, school, friendships etc. These are normal fears that all children will worry about at one time or another and once the situation is over, they will feel better and calm down. Anxiety is different, with anxiety the feelings of fear or panic remain even when the problem has gone away.
We are dealing with this issue with one of my children, but before I can share our experience, I have to add that whilst the child concerned is happy to share their story, they have requested that I don’t say which one of my children it concerns and has asked to be identified by “Anon” however they are happy for me to share their story in the hopes it could help some other parent or child who are dealing with thoughts of suicide.
Anon suffers from anxiety and depression. Most days they feel panicked and threatened, but unable to explain why. Things which might seem minor to any other child of the same age, can become dark looming shadows in their mind, even simple things such as catching the bus, gets their mind racing with fear of the bus crashing, not being allowed on the bus, nowhere to sit, people laughing at them, strangers looking at them, the list goes on. Their anxiety about going on the bus is so bad at the moment that Anon refuses to go to school on the bus and we have to drive them to school and home.
Some mornings, like this morning, Anon’s anxiety is so bad that they cannot get out of bed as fears circle round and round their head. It’s no good telling them “you’ll be fine” “don’t worry” “There’s nothing to worry about” “Don’t be silly” “Grow up” they don’t help.
Anon’s fear is not a rational fear that can be spoken about rationally, telling them that their fear is silly doesn’t make the fear go away but would instead increase their anxiety and make them worry more.
So what do I do to help Anon? In this case, it’s easier to take them to school in the car, at least then they’re going to school, but not all fears can be dealt with as easily and the worst thing you can do is to tell Anon that everything will be ok or not to worry, sometimes anxiety can be triggered by worrying about worrying!
The other night Anon came into my bedroom sobbing they didn’t want me to die! How do you deal with that? I can’t lie to them and tell them I’ll never die, Anon is old enough to know that everyone dies. Yet they fear death, Anon fears loosing their loved ones and he worries about how they’ll cope if I’m not there to support them.
Before Christmas, Anon’s anxiety and depression seemed to be getting the worst of them and Anon took tablets trying to hurt themselves and trying to make the panicky feelings go away. Thankfully they were only vitamins, but Anon was clearly agitated and shaking and was not themselves! This was also Anon’s 3rd attempt in less than 3 weeks to hurt themselves, but the first one that they told me what they had done straight away.
I took Anon straight to our local hospital. I must admit I did feel a bit silly making such a fuss when all Anon had taken was out-of-date vitamins, but my main concern was that Anon was having such troubling thoughts and if I didn’t take it serious things might get worse and next time Anon might succeed. Thankfully the hospital, their school and CAMHS reassured me that I did the right thing. Anon was kept overnight so we could see the CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) counsellor the following day.
Amazingly it turned out to be the CAMHS counsellor Anon had been seeing for their anxiety and depression until January last year and since she already knew Anon it made the whole process that much easier. The counsellor was sad to see what a state Anon was in and to hear that CAMHS had closed Anon to their services so soon after she had stopped seeing them. Since she already knew Anon and knowing their history made things a lot easier, for Anon and me, and she drew up a safety plan to keep Anon safe and said that she would recommend to CAMHS that Anon was opened back up to their services and given therapy to help them deal with their depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Whilst having a safety plan has kept Anon safe, it has caused a few tantrums, especially as we are not allowed to leave Anon alone. When we went out for Rhian’s birthday last week, Anon didn’t want to come and whilst having a tantrum Anon put their fist through the bathroom door (thankfully they didn’t hurt themselves and the door came off worse!)
But the main point of the safety plan is to keep Anon safe. Yes it’s annoying I have to sort out a new door, but at least I still have my child and I don’t have to worry about Anon having a panic attack whilst home alone and with no one around to help calm them down Anon might take another drastic measure trying to get rid of it!
Anxiety and depression seem to run in our family. I suffer, as does my mum, and of course feeling guilty that we have passed this on to Anon makes our own anxiety and depression worse, although it does help us understand where Anon is coming from. One of my triggers is when my mum says “I need a word with you” those few innocent words send me into a complete panic as I start to think I’m in trouble and my mind starts running away with all the worst things I can think of and I have an overwhelming urge to flee. Thankfully my mum has now learnt she has to add, “don’t worry you’re not in trouble” to the end to try and prevent my spiral descent into a full-fledged panic attack. Knowing this also helps me deal with Anon and I know I have to be careful how I word things if I send Anon a text saying I want them.
I try to hide my low days to try and stop Anon seeing that I’m struggling as I don’t want them to blame themselves for my own panic. I am as honest as I can be though and Anon is also aware that I suffer from anxiety and depression and we talk about what has or hasn’t helped me when I’m in the midst of a panic attack (which is sadly not much). I hope that knowing I can relate to Anon will help them open up to me about their own feelings and fears.
One good thing that has come out of Anon’s suicide attempt is that hubby now realises how seriously low Anon is feeling and that just telling them to “Stop being silly” or “Grow up” does not help but actually makes them feel worse. Hopefully soon Bernardo’s, who are working with us as a family, along with Gyda’n Gilydd (Team Around the Family) are going to work with Anon and their dad to help them improve their relationship as hubby struggles to sympathise with Anon. He was brought up to believe boys and men shouldn’t show their feeling and should just “man up” and with 4 older brothers, he wasn’t allowed to feel like this so he doesn’t know how to help Anon and doesn’t realise that his words just make Anon feel worse.
With CAMHS back involved, things are starting to look for Anon, even though he didn’t go to school today because of their anxiety.
What to do if you think your child is suffering from anxiety?
For those of you out there who are suffering from similar issues, keep going, keep banging on those doors and don’t let yourself be fobbed off.
- Speak to your child’s school and ask if they have a child protection officer or they have a policy on mental health and wellbeing.
- Speak to your local GP and tell them of your concerns.
- If you are in Wales, contact Snap Cymru who was a big help when I first started down this road in 2014 and I feared Anon’s behaviour in school would see them expelled.
- Gyda’n Gilydd (Team Around the Family in Gwynedd) is a big help and can work with you as a family, they can help be your advocate and help get you in touch with other people who can help.
- You know your child the best and you are the best advocate your child has.
Sadly CAMHS is stretched as so many children are suffering from anxiety and depression that they are overwhelmed which makes it even harder to get your child seen, but all you can do is keep trying and show them that you won’t go away.
If your child does show signs of suicidal thoughts or impulses, take them to the hospital straight away. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait for them to make their first attempt, sometimes all it takes is just one attempt to end their life, even if they didn’t mean to kill themselves but it was just a cry for help.
A suicidal thought is just as important as an attempt and you will be taken seriously at the hospital and all hospitals should have a CAMHS counsellor who works alongside with any child who is admitted with mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
But how do you know if your child is suffering from anxiety or just general worries that childhood can bring?
According to Young Minds, “the symptoms of anxiety start out the same as just generally feeling anxious but get worse or last longer than they should. These include;
- Feeling frightened, nervous or panicky all the time
- Getting down or depressed
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low appetite (although in Ryan’s case his appetite is the opposite as he comfort eats and seems to be constantly hungry)
- Lack of concentration
- Tired and irritable
- Palpitations – when your heart feels like its racing
- Dry mouth
- Feeling faint
- Stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea
Feeling one, some or even most of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety. It’s important to talk to your GP and that is your first port of call.
The most important thing to remember is, you’re not alone!
You can follow our story on Raising an Anxious Teenager