It is children’s mental health awareness week and I wanted to share a true story. There was once a 16-year-old girl and she got sick and sad. Her sickness was both physical and mental and it lasted a few years. The girl had been a sporty teen, she loved being on the hockey pitch and she had friends. She came from a ‘normal’ home where she was loved and adored. There was no big trauma. Ever.
Yet she still got sick.
At first, she was always cold and sleepy. She was tired, no matter how much she rested. In time, her body began to ache more and more. Like really hurt. It stopped her playing hockey and she began to sleep even more. Some days she wouldn’t get out of bed and go to sixth form. She didn’t really fit in there either. It is not where her true friends were. The more she missed at school the harder it was to go in. Yet she wanted her qualifications. She dreamt of her future.
Yet she still hurt. Everything was a struggle. It was like wading through mud.
The teachers didn’t understand. The doctors didn’t understand. They said there was nothing physically wrong. All the tests came back normal. Yet the dizziness was real. The tears that fell were real. The weakness she felt was debilitating. It was all so real.
Eventually, chronic fatigue was diagnosed. It didn’t help it just made the girl tired. She continued the antidepressants but the magic pills didn’t do their magic.
More and different pills were tried. She still hurt and the sadness grew. It kept growing darker and darker. It consumed everything.
Months later the girl ended up in a hospital. For weeks or maybe it was months. That time is a bit of a blur. She sat her ALevels by being driven into the school and then taken back to the hospital. She can’t remember sitting those papers. There is no recollection of being in an exam hall. It has been erased from memory.
Somehow, somehow she passed those exams. She had the grades to go to University. Life seemed a little brighter, this sickness had lasted two years by this point. There was no magic cure, talking therapy helped but it didn’t find out why she had been so sad. There are theories, it was a knock to the head she had suffered, it was a change of school, it was hormones, it was CFS. Who knows. She never did really know. Still can’t be sure.
In time she got better and she met a good man. A man she still loves. She still gets tired and sleeps more than some people. Every time she was pregnant she did worry that the blackness could return. Feared postnatal depression. But it didn’t happen.
She doesn’t talk about that time all those years ago. But it made her the woman she is. She wished she could talk more freely, but there is a still a stigma. Still a fear that it will impact on what others think of her. Still a fear it will somehow stop her from getting work or being taken seriously. Depression made her vulnerable and that is still planted somewhere inside. The vulnerability never really totally disappears.
Having depression when you are a teen is not easy, it’s not easy at any age I’m sure. But when you are a teen and are supposed to be having the time of your life it is hard. It wasn’t lack of self-esteem or confidence. She had those. It wasn’t lack of love, she had plenty. Just sometimes there is no cause, no trauma, no big episode.
Since back then that girl has worked with teenagers, she always writes positively about teenagers. She wants to build them up and let them know how important they are. She understands that the teenage years can be fragile, that things may look fine but inside they are really not.
That girl got better, but it made her the way she is.
If you know a teenager struggling with their mental health, don’t ever dismiss it. Teachers, GP’s, family you all need to listen. You need to stop and listen.
You can get better from depression. It might come back but also, it might not.
That girl was lucky, it didn’t come back, not to those depths.
This week is child mental health awareness week. Please be aware.