I started to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression from around the age of 12 but it wasn’t until I reached the age of 17 that my mental health took a steep decline.
I had set my sights on a career in politics and was putting a huge amount of pressure on myself to get the grades I needed to get into university.
I was anxious about the future and the possibility of failing, but my school wasn’t very understanding and they told me that I just needed to ‘work harder’.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the grades I needed to get into the universities I wanted to go to and this really took its toll on my mental health.
I felt completely lost and initially, I found it difficult to open up to my parents.
For a long time, they thought it was just hormones. I’d always been a bit of a worrier so they just assumed that my problems were small because of that.
My dad started to become concerned about my mental health during my time out of work, because he could see that the symptoms of my depression were becoming more intense.
Rather than disregarding my issues, he would listen without judgment and tried to offer his advice.
When he could tell that I was beginning to get stressed, he would suggest we go grab some food so that I could talk through my problems with him.
This was always helpful for me – our home was often busy as my parents fostered other children, so it was hard to explain how I was feeling in the house without being interrupted or it being too noisy.
When we talked, he wouldn’t judge my emotions or tell me to brush them aside. Instead, he would offer advice to help my situation where he could, or just sit and listen when I just needed someone to talk to.
It was his non-judgmental attitude that allowed me to bond with him through conversation.
I’m now 20, and have just started studying at the University of Glasgow, but this hasn’t stopped me from calling on my dad when I need help.
It’s so important to have parents in your corner who will offer advice without judgement; a parental figure who will sit and listen to you and support you, no matter their own opinion on a matter
A lot of parents either disregard their child’s problems, as they think it’s something that will go away, or they try to dictate how the child should treat their problems in a way that can sometimes come across as forceful.
But the main thing for parents to do is to spend time with their child in a way that shows compassion.
Young people want their parents’ advice, they just don’t want the extra baggage of judgment or forcefulness that can so often come with it.
Paul Bickerdike’s (Celine’s dad) advice:
Looking back on how Celine developed her anxiety, my advice to other parents would be to take the time to listen to your child when they are young – both in how they act and what they say.
Make sure you spend time with your child one-to-one, away from distractions – this really helps the child to speak about their concerns and for the parent to listen.
You’re not necessarily looking to solve the issue that is troubling the child but rather offer options and allow them to feel supported in what they decide to do.
I initially put Celine’s behaviour down to puberty and hormone changes – I thought she’d grow out of it, but I was wrong; seeking professional help and involvement earlier would have been better.
How to talk to your child about mental health
If you are concerned that your child is experiencing a mental health problem, it can be hard to know what to do. The first thing you should do is to try to find out what’s troubling them. Whatever the issue is, try not trivialise it.
Here are some tips and advice for parents on how to talk to children about mental health problems from Time To Change:
1. Remember that listening can be more important and significant than talking. Always take the time to listen to what your teenager is saying.
2. Keep conversations small and informal. You don’t have to set aside hours to chat. Strike up a conversation in the car, over a meal, or while you’re watching TV.
3. Put experiences in context. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental wellbeing doesn’t mean feeling happy all the time, and mental problems are common.
4. De-personalise the situation, as you might find it easier to talk about a hypothetical event rather than asking direct questions about their feelings. For example, saying ‘Exams can be really stressful, can’t they?’ or chatting about the experiences of a TV character.
5. Hear what’s true for them. You might not understand or agree with their feelings or way of seeing things, but recognise it might be true for them in that moment.
6. Avoid situations where you blame, lecture, accuse, judge or tell your child what they should have done. Instead, listen to their story and let them know you empathise with how they feel.
7. Don’t be impatient or short-tempered with your child when they are sad or anxious. Avoid making judgemental statements such as ‘OK, so you’re sad again, why?’
8. Don’t make it all about them. Share a situation where you felt worried, stressed or anxious to let them know that what they are feeling is natural.
9. Don’t be dismissive of their worries and fears, no matter how trivial they may seem to you. Never tell them they are just being silly.
10. Don’t bottle up your own emotions; your children will learn by watching you. Encourage good coping skills by demonstrating them openly.
If you are feeling unsure about broaching the topic of mental health with your son or daughter, remember one of the most significant things for young people is that they know they can come talk to you if they are worried about their mental health.
Talking about it doesn’t need to be difficult or scary and you don’t need to be an expert, simply being open to talking about mental health can make a huge difference.
If you’re struggling with mental health problems make an appointment with your GP or call the Samaritans on 116 123, or Mind on 0300 123 3393.