Our founder Eleanor and her Dad shared their story with Metro.co.uk for Fathers Day and Dads Mental Health Day. Here is an extract:
I am the child of a father with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with the same condition aged 16 in 2004 – this was only four years after my dad was diagnosed at the age of 44. Our story is a special and unique one, and dad and I have a strong bond as a result.
However, it has not always been easy for me and my family. Growing up with my mum, dad and younger sister in Hertfordshire, I didn’t fully know that my dad had serious mental health issues until my teenage years. I was largely sheltered from it by my mum and my loving grandparents as a child. My grandparents would look after us when dad was ill with depression and mum had to work.
I am the eldest, and being the child of someone with a mental illness did bring its own challenges. I have always felt a sense of duty and responsibility to look after my sister and both my parents, despite receiving a lot of love and care. This sentiment has meant that I have always felt a need to look after those around me, and make sure my dad is stable with his health.
Many children of those with serious mental health issues are exposed to a lot more than I was. My childhood was largely happy. My dad was never sectioned or hospitalised and never experienced the psychosis that I have experienced with my own bipolar. There were no alcohol or drug issues in my home but dad did experience mood fluctuations with both mania and depression.
He also experienced panic attacks that stopped him from working. Dad remembers having these when I was just four-years-old. In 1996, he had his first bout of severe depression and anxiety. His panic attacks meant that he had to stop working at his job in finance after collapsing there.
Mum became the breadwinner, with two children under seven. My sister was only five-years-old. I know this wasn’t easy for anyone though I don’t fully remember it. I have been told that dad was often not around during the day due to his depression. He would retreat into his bed and sleep, but would come and see us in the evenings, once we came home from school.
I do remember visiting him in hospital one time after his severe panic made him collapse in the street. He was having his heart monitored to rule out a heart attack and was eventually discharged home.
Dad was never referred to a psychiatrist and he believes this is why his bipolar was undiagnosed for so long. He gradually recovered with antidepressant medication and support from the GP and my mum.
He slowly coaxed himself out of bed and out the house to walk down the road to buy a paper. This would take several hours. His depression lifted and he eventually went back to work. Life was easier for our family for a while, although financially, things were tight and there was always a risk my dad might not be able to work.