5 Valuable Tips for Communicating With a Parent/ Person with Dementia

(image: Unsplash)

Due to various factors, including the ageing population, dementia is on the rise. In the future, it could touch the lives of half the population, becoming one of the most common degenerative diseases. 

When a parent gets dementia, it can sometimes be disorientating and upsetting. All of a sudden, their behaviour changes and it’s not clear what’s going on. They just don’t seem like themselves and they can’t take on board what you say. 

Adjusting to this new reality can be challenging, but this article is here to help. In it, we run through some tips for communicating with a person who has dementia so that you can keep your relationship with them strong. 

Give Them Your Full Attention

Communicating with a person who has dementia becomes challenging when you don’t give them your full attention. Misunderstandings are common, so trying to watch TV or do the dishes at the same time as talking to them is a bad idea. 

Instead, address your parents directly in quiet surroundings. Make sure that there is nothing else going on at the same time, including screaming kids and so on. When approaching your parents, use non-verbal cues, such as touching them on the shoulder to indicate that you want to talk to them. 

State Your Words Clearly

Language can be fuzzy sometimes. But when our brains are healthy, most of us can get by. 

However, that’s not the case when your parents are receiving dementia care. It is considerably more challenging for them to understand what is going on and their surroundings. 

Therefore, always state your words clearly. Avoid raising your voice, as your parents may mistake this for aggression unless they are also hard of hearing. 

When you speak, use the same wording. Prepare yourself to repeat what you need to say several times.

Ask Simple Questions

If you do ask questions, keep them simple. Ideally, you want questions that your parents can answer “yes” or “no” to. Refrain from asking open-ended questions, such as “what type of food do you prefer?”

Break Down Activities Into Smaller Chunks

Telling a patient with dementia that they need to go shopping or get ready for the day is generally a bad idea. That’s because these tasks involve multiple smaller steps that they need to go through. To a healthy person, this all seems simple. But for a patient with dementia, it is considerably more challenging. 

For this reason, try breaking down tasks into a series of smaller steps. Instead of telling your parents to get ready, ask them to put on each item of clothing one at a time. 

Distract And Redirect

Sometimes people living with dementia can become frustrated and angry. Many do not understand what is going on. 

Because of this, it’s a good idea to distract and redirect. These psychological techniques make it easier for you to manage difficult interactions. Focus on the feelings they have and offer support, but then if that doesn’t work, offer immediate redirection, such as suggesting getting something to eat or going for a walk. 

It can be really challenging when a parent or family member has dementia- it can affect both mental and physical health. You may find yourself feeling exhausted, stressed and frustrated too- as well as sad that the person you love is being affected so much. Your loved one may also feel like this at the beginning and struggle with any loss of memory or function. Make sure they get the correct support and you look after yourself too- by practising self care and speaking to a therapist if need be.

This article was written by a freelance writer and contains do follow links.

From Denial, To Acceptance and Recovery: My Mental Health and Eating Disorder Journey by Emily J. Johnson

(image: Jasmin Chew at Pexels)

Trigger warning: discusses eating disorders and OCD

It has taken me almost thirty-five years to acknowledge that I have struggled with mental illness myself. I’ve spent a lifetime in denial. It wasn’t until writing my memoir Pushing Through The Cracks in 2021 that I observed my life objectively. I witnessed the experiences I’d gathered since childhood and how they had shaped me into the woman I am today.   A woman of strength, but also one diagnosed with a mental health disorder – Binge eating disorder. A label I neither wanted nor could accept. Not until now.

This isn’t my first experience with mental illness. In my teens, my life was in turmoil. After my parents’ unexpected divorce, my mother remarried a gambler with a volatile temper within two years. My father moved to Australia, and with the upheaval of my home life and the onslaught of puberty, I felt lost. My body was changing, and I’d become uncomfortable with my new shape. What began as a diet to slim my blossoming body developed into anorexia. In the 1980s, treatment was non-existent, at least for me. Instead, my GP gave me a telling-off and threatened to put me in a hospital and force-feed me via a drip. His threats petrified me, and I gradually increased my food intake again. It took me two years to recover. Ultimately, my anorexia was untreated, so it left me with a legacy of disordered thoughts about my body and food throughout my adult life.

A few years after my father’s death in my mid-thirties, I became fixated on turning electrical items off – the cooker, iron, hair straighteners, television – anything that was plugged in. I would touch the switches whilst talking out loud to myself, repeatedly, trying to confirm they were in the ‘off’ position. I knew they were off, but somehow, I couldn’t accept that they were off. Additional obsessions snuck in gradually. I began checking the fridge door was closed, then every door and window in my home. What started as checking became an arduous set routine every night to ensure the doors and windows were locked multiple times. I was terrified someone was going to break in. Checking the doors eased that terror, temporarily.

It continued for several months, and I couldn’t stop the thoughts no matter how hard I tried. I moved back to the UK in 2010 and it appeared the huge disruption to my life interrupted the intrusive thoughts and checking behaviours, and they stopped. As the mother of a child with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I now recognise what I experienced back in my thirties may well have been OCD.

Fast forward to my late forties, a divorce behind me, and a period of depression to follow, I remarried and began a new life with a blended family. But within a couple of years, both of my sons and my new husband began struggling with their mental health. Mental illness filled our once happy home with depression, anxiety, alcoholism, OCD, and gambling, and it turned my entire world upside down whilst I tried to care for them all. I was under immense stress and turned to something to help me cope – food.

It began with me ‘rewarding’ myself with chocolate bars late at night when everyone else had settled. Over time, the ‘reward’ became a buffet of junk — mostly heavily processed carbs and sugar. All eaten quickly, in secret, and shrouded in shame. Within a few months, I was eating around 5000 calories during a night-time binge. In-between the binges were days of restricted food intake. I gained a large amount of weight, which I hated myself for. The self-loathing was overwhelming.

I realised I had a problem in late 2019 and went to my GP, who referred me to an eating disorder clinic. They diagnosed me with Binge eating disorder (BED), and I began a recovery programme, which I stuck to until the Covid pandemic interrupted my sessions, and I threw in the towel. As a result, I slipped back into bingeing again when life overwhelmed me.

In 2021, I self-referred myself back to the ED clinic. I’m still on a waiting list, however, I’ve taken steps to get support and am in recovery now. I am 24 days binge-free at the time of writing this, which feels like such a huge personal triumph after a long period of relapse.

I think the toughest part for me has been accepting that I had a mental health disorder. I also felt overwhelming guilt that I had perhaps somehow genetically gifted my son’s mental illness to each of them. It’s taken me a long time to accept my diagnosis and our family’s situation. But from that place of acceptance, I have finally found peace….and recovery.



Emily J. Johnson is the author of Pushing Through The Cracks, her memoir of her family’s struggles with mental health. She lives in the UK and this is her first blog on this subject!

The Flowers that bloom in Adversity: by Eleanor

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(image: Roxi Roxas Art)

I have wanted to write this post for several weeks, but so much has been going on personally and I have been really emotionally drained (and launching my new business too). Let start at the beginning.

At the end of May, my mother in law (who is carer for my father in law with terminal brain cancer) was taken very unwell. She was rushed to hospital with stroke like symptoms and put into an induced coma on a ventilator as her lungs were collapsing. We were super scared it was Covid as she was shielding anyway and it came completely out the blue, on the day of her 60th birthday after we had celebrated.

She is the main carer for my father in law and so my husband Rob had to move in to their house to care for his Dad and support his brother. (cue frantic phone calls to the doctors surgery, hospitals, Macmillan nurses and Jewish Care, all done by my incredible husband).

Thankfully, my MIL came off the ventilator to breathe unaided and she tested negative for Covid 19. We think she caught a severe bacterial infection and she then got pneumonia in her lungs. She was in hospital for 4 weeks and discharged 2 weeks ago and is making amazing progress with her physio team and her speech. She is still frail but she is recovering slowly.

This blog post I don’t want to make about my in laws because they are private people. Dealing with all these scary changes has been tough on my mental health (and everyones).

We are slowly slowly coming out the other side, although we know my FIL will worsen in time due to the nature of his illness.

So what flowers are blooming during this adversity?

-On Saturday will be our first wedding anniversary and we will spend it together. Its been a rollercoaster year but I am so thankful to have Rob by my side!

-I am loving my new Body Shop at Home business and my team and incredible managers. It really has been keeping me sane throughout this time of family lockdown and I can’t thank Sarah Cardwell enough for introducing me to the business. The products are so good for self care and healing too, which has been so needed and I have made lots of new friends. It keeps my mind stimulated and earns me income too- I am so grateful.

-Yesterday, Robs kind family member went over so we could spend some proper quality time together (thank you). We went for a walk in our favourite little village near by where there are cottages and flowers and village green and pond- I took lots of pictures of my dream cottages and gardens. Then, we got vanilla chocolate milkshakes (first time in a café post lockdown) and visited family. It was so special just to have US time, so rare in this current time for our family.

-This blog is continuing to grow and turning into a side business and for that I am ever grateful. I am also loving sharing peoples personal stories and hope it is a useful resource.

-Our guineapigs Midnight and Nutmeg are a source of joy and give great cuddles.

-Friends and familys kindness and messages help so much. I havnt had a therapy session in a while but will do.

I am feeling positive but there will be rough days ahead in the coming months. Today though, I am enjoying slightly more calm and peace again before the potential storm, and watching the flowers that are blooming in adversity.  

 

5 Ways you can reduce Anxiety in Every Day Life: Guest blog by Samantha Higgins

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(image: Picuki.com)

Reducing anxiety at the moment in our every day lives is so important.

Having anxiety is something that many people have challenges with. It is estimated that about 1 in 5 adults have an anxiety disorder and that more than that will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.

The symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless or on edge, being easily irritated, difficulty controlling feelings of worry and having difficulty sleeping, amongst others. 

If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, there are many things you can do to help reduce and manage those feelings. 

 

1. Look at Lifestyle Choices

A number of different lifestyle behaviours could contribute to your anxiety. Drinking alcohol, taking drugs, eating junk food will all play a big role in how you feel. For example, excessive drinking or the use of drugs can cause a multitude of health problems including liver and kidney damage. It also causes mental illness such as drug and alcohol addictions. You may need further support from a psychiatrist or rehab unit if you are struggling with addiction or mental illness.

On the opposite side, exercising regularly and eating healthy foods are proven to boost your mood, increase the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy and improve your overall physical health. 

If you want to manage anxiety, consider looking at your current lifestyle choices and if there is anything you have the power to change. Be honest in your assessment but know you have options for assistance.  Making a big lifestyle change is hard but if there is something you know is causing your mental health and anxiety to worsen, it is a good idea to remove that from your life if possible. 

 

2. Talk to Your Family and Friends

Even if you think your family and friends would not understand, you might end up getting some of your most valuable support from them. You should not ever feel you have to hide any of your mental health concerns from them, unless you know that they would react badly.

Try to avoid shutting people out, being secretive about your mental illness or becoming defensive when people ask. 

True friends will listen and care. There is still a stigma to mental illness but it is important to find someone you trust.

 

 3. Set Boundaries

If necessary you can set boundaries for yourself. This could mean letting people know there are certain activities you don’t participate in. It could also mean a limit on how much time you spend with friends and family, in order to practise self care and recuperate. 

Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders find that setting up a schedule for themselves that they are consistent in keeping can greatly reduce feelings of anxiety. It helps them to feel more in control and gives them a structure that feels secure.

Setting boundaries is a way for you to have control over your situation and environment, although these should not be too rigid. There are certain things that can’t be controlled that can increase anxiety. 

 

4. Let Go of Things You Can’t Control

If something is out of your control that is causing your anxiety there are ways that you can cope with these feelings.  One suggestion is to write down how you are feeling to help let those emotions go. The BACP tells us that, “It can help to express this anxiety in a way that you can control. That could be writing down what you feel, or keeping a journal.”

You can also try making a list of things you are grateful for, or use breathing and relaxation techniques. 

If you are still struggling to cope with things out of your control seek help from a professional. 

 

5. Get Professional Help

You could turn to all types of mental health professionals to get help, including GPs (physicians), psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and therapists. You may be referred for talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness or EMDR therapy for trauma.  They may also recommend medication for you too.

In the UK, you would go via your NHS GP who can refer you on to see a psychiatrist or to IAPT for counselling.  Also check out the Counselling Directory website.

When searching for a good therapist in the USA, Karen Whitehead, who does counseling in Alpharetta, GA tells us that, “Psychologists (PsyD), Licensed Social Workers (LMSW/LCSW), Licensed Professional Counsellors (LPC), and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) can all evaluate and treat mental illness, provide talk therapy, support and feedback, and teach coping strategies such as mindfulness.”

Your counsellor will be able to help you better assess your situation and get to the core of your anxieties. Even if you already know why you get anxious, you can benefit from learning coping skills.

Your counsellor can indeed equip you with tools adapted for your specific needs. You will have feedback on what is and what is not working. You can learn to live with, manage and in many cases, recover from anxiety.

 

You Are Not Alone

Do not ever think you are alone when it comes to your anxiety. Try not to beat yourself up if setbacks occur or you have a bad day.

Talk with your therapist about ways that you can help to further reduce your anxiety. They will be able to help you.

 

This blog was written by freelance writer Samantha Higgins.

Lockdown and Dealing with Mental Health: Guest blog by author Graham Morgan MBE

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(image of Ardmore, Scotland by http://scotlandwildlife.blogspot.com/2011/07/tobermory-to-ardmore-bay-isle-of-mull.html )

My name is Graham Morgan. This is my story of how I’m coping under lockdown.

I have just got back from walking Dash the dog round Ardmore. There was not a person in sight; just the sound of the curlews and the crows, the roar of the cold wind in the trees and the sound of the waves on the seashore. It gave me a chance to think and ponder on this first day of lockdown. It blew my tiredness away. As I reached the point; I looked along the Clyde to Dunoon; where my sister works as a midwife and hoped she was ok and thought about my brother, a medical director and psychiatrist;  having to make decisions about the future that no one should have to make.

Driving the two minute journey home I passed the post office van ; strange to see the postie with his mask and blue gloves. I felt slightly guilty for being out and had to remind myself that we are allowed one exercise session a day; that walking the dog counts as that.

I am so lucky compared to others. My friend phoned last night to say he had just managed to get home after breaking the news to his friend’s sister that that friend had killed himself days ago. Back to an email saying he was sacked from his job and that his tenant. who he shares his house with, was leaving the house as London, feels too unsafe. To deal with that?

I found out recently a Twitter friend was passing round my book on a psychiatric ward. The thought of being back in hospital but with no visitors and all the restrictions that happen now, fills me with horror; makes my last hospital stay feel pleasant. 

Yesterday a young man contacted me on Facebook to say how much he enjoyed my book START and how he was now in self isolation. I remembered he had been in hospital for months and months; was just getting used to his first flat; getting back to education, finding joy in his creativity. I remembered the loneliness I felt when I lived alone; those days when there was no one to speak to, to share a smile with. How it tore at me! Slapped me to the ground with sadness. I think of so many friends who are already lonely; lost in their lives, lacking the energy to even make a cup of tea.

I am indeed lucky. So far in our tiny household we have got over the twin’s meltdowns when we took them out of school last Monday. How frightened they were and how much they miss their friends. Home schooling for the moment is fun, I imagine, as the weeks go, by it will get harder. We are lucky we still have perspective; not to get angry and argue because of our own anxiety.

I am used to being awake in the early hours, yet somehow I am sleeping OK at the moment and have decreased my drinking. 

My understanding of the world (due to my beliefs at the moment) is that I am evil and bringing about its destruction; I think I am partly responsible for the fires and floods; the wars but, for some reason, coronavirus seems to have nothing to do with me. I have no idea why, but it is a relief.

I have more realistic worries, like the special care my Mum made to get a long tight hug when I left her in England to go back up to Scotland. 

We have been working from home and have been more or less self- isolated since Monday because my partner has asthma and yet her separated husband is a key worker  and looks after the kids too. There is relief that these are ‘real’ worries that I can grasp; not my usual ones.

The most pressing concerns are how to work from home as well as home schooling the children; how to get bread and eggs. The biggest inconvenience has been having to queue outside the chemist for my anti depressants; thankful that my GP realised I was taking them too infrequently and that now I am back up to the required dose I feel so much more relaxed.

I have one quandary; a minor one. I went to get my jag (injection) yesterday for my mental illness. The CPN (community psychiatric nurse) who gave me it had no more protection than normal. It was quick and painless.

He said he didn’t know where the community mental health team would be soon; they may be based with another more urban one by my next appointment. He said that if I, or anyone else near me, got any symptoms I was to phone in but that he had no idea what they would do if I did; that I might have to take oral medication.

At that I was lost because, of course I would have to;  not doing so at such a time would cause so much trouble but, at the same time; I am on a community section because I cannot make myself take medication, how can I agree to that, if it happens?

I have my work, I have food, my lovely family and Dash the dog who cuddles tightly up to me every night. I have my writing, my books, my music. So many people I know have nothing approaching that. 

I think I am glad I don’t have the imagination to see the scale of what is happening and am not torturing myself with the ‘what ifs’. Good luck to all of you who may not be in such a good place. Let us all help each other as best we can over the coming weeks.

 

Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health and is the Author of START (by Fledgling Press) a memoir of compulsory treatment, love and the natural world. Available from Amazon and Waterstones on line.

He can be found at @GrahamM23694298 on twitter and at Graham Morgan – author; on facebook or at the Scottish Booktrust Live Literature database at https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors/graham-morgan

 

Life under Lockdown: Keeping yourself busy at home: Guest blog by Chloe Walker

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(image: https://www.cottagesforcouples.com/)

As Covid-19 continues to spread and the world scrambles to stay a step ahead, many of us are finding ourselves isolating at home in unprecedented circumstances. All around the world governments are increasingly ramping up safety measures to protect both their medical staff and their most vulnerable citizens.

As we all adapt to a new and still rapidly changing world, there are challenges to our wellbeing, financial security and even mental health.

On the other hand, many people are now realising that life in lockdown offers many unique advantages. Just because you’re self-isolating or social distancing, it doesn’t mean that life has to be put on hold completely. In fact, now could well be the time to capitalise on the extra time spent at home to do things that otherwise would have taken the back seat.

Here are a few ideas for ways to make sure your time under quarantine is spent wisely.
Get your garden ready for spring

In the UK, the first glorious days of spring have appeared, reminding us all that there’s plenty to be grateful for. Warmer and brighter days lure us outside again after a long winter. If your garden needs some love, put on your wellies and know that a little outdoor work could do wonders for stress levels.

Gardeners know that work in the yard is never really finished. Still, avoid mowing your lawn too short for now. According to mowing specialists Mowers Online, “As the growing season starts selecting the blade height to 50mm will give optimum grass blade thickness which is crucial for growth. This height may seem rugged at first but remembering that grass blades are solar panels for the lawn and the more energy created, the more luscious the lawn.”

Finding time to garden during the Spring will keep you occupied, physically active and out there getting essential vitamin D.

Try some spring cleaning

In the same spirit, why not use the longer, brighter days to inspire you to clean up a little? If you’re now working from home, you may find yourself with extra time on your hands – and the opportunity to get around to all those deep cleaning jobs that have accumulated over the year.

This is also a great time to catch up on any maintenance jobs that you haven’t had time for. For instance, when was the last time you cleared out the gutters? Or checked everything was ok in the loft? These are both areas that can deteriorate quickly when not maintained and can result in pests making their way into the home. If this has already happened, then you’ll need to call some exterminators as soon as possible here is a great example of the sort of company to contact https://www.pestcontrolexperts.com/exterminator/louisiana/. The lockdown will end eventually, and you’ll really appreciate a bright and shiny home to see you through the challenges that will come with getting back to work again.

Bring a little of the outdoors indoors

It’s now well understood that nature has an incredible ability to relax us and boost mental wellbeing. As most of us try to manage the inevitable stresses the coronavirus has brought with it, we can turn to nature to recalibrate, de-stress and remind ourselves of what’s important.

Even if it’s gloomy outside, bring a little nature indoors to get the benefits. Stonehouse Furniture suggest ‘‘A window box on the outside is a great way to add a splash of colour to your day as you do mundane kitchen chores. Spring bulbs, miniature daffodils, polyanthus and summer bedding plants are a very cheap way to add nature and colour to your kitchen outlook.’’
Enjoy cooking
Now’s the time to get in touch with your domesticity! There’s more time now than ever to really relish the joys of preparing fresh, healthy, home-cooked meals for your family. With grocery shop orders being a little unpredictable, you likely have a stock of ingredients on hand anyway. Why not get creative and try some new recipes you were always too busy to attempt before, or concoct your own meals? Rope in the family for some quality time cooking together, and experiment with different daily routines.

Can’t find your usual ingredients in the store anymore? Accept the challenge and eat something a little more exciting and out of your culinary comfort zone. Have too much fresh food on your hands? Try batch cooking and then freeze the extra food for emergencies.

It may at first seem limiting to have to stay at home, but use your imagination and reframe staying at home as a great opportunity instead. Get stuck into that hobby you’ve always put off, or flex your creativity with painting, poetry, crafts or knitting. Stay fit indoors by doing yoga or YouTube workouts, enjoy your pets, or have your own mini party in the living room with your favourite music. Films, books and musical instruments are your friends right now.  Keep in touch with your literal friends online, or get out some board games to play with the family.

The coronavirus has challenged us all to prioritize what’s truly essential: our mental and physical wellbeing. Take this opportunity to reconnect with yourself, with nature, and with those you love, and you’ll soon wonder why you don’t spend more time at home!

This blog was written by freelance writer Chloe Walker, who is based in the UK.  

5 Ways Therapy Can Heal your Family: Guest blog by Samantha Higgins

5 Ways Therapy Can Heal Your Family (1)

Therapy can be very helpful for families, and your family could benefit from therapy, too. Professional counselling is a proven method to help with all kinds of issues impacting families, and any issues plaguing your family could also be addressed.

To help you pinpoint just how therapy could help your family, you should look into the various situations where therapy might be useful. In particular, you should consider these five ways therapy can heal your family.

1. When Having Marital Issues

You can get assistance with all types of marriage issues when you get help from a therapist. If you have entered a new marriage, you can learn how to adjust to the roles that come along with that. If your marriage is on the rocks, you can get assistance, too.

If cheating has become an issue and you need an infidelity therapist, professional help is without a doubt a good idea. Therapy can help you deal with all of the emotions, assist you with any grieving, and provide guidance on how to move forward.

2. Dealing with the Loss of Loved Ones

The loss of loved ones can impact your family to the point where professional help is needed. If your family has lost someone, you can have short-term effects and long-term effects. When your family loses a loved one, you always run the risk of issues developing further. This is especially the case if it was your family member who died.

You will not be the only one to benefit from help. Children can learn to grieve and deal with the new family structure. Parents can learn how to better take on leading a home by themselves, and other family members can sound off and get feedback, too. Often a loss of a loved one requires people to take on new roles and responsibilities. Therapy can help your family if dealing with those situations.

3. Help with Children with Behavioural difficulties

If you have a child or children that are struggling with poor behaviour, you should consider therapy. Not only can bad behaviors be stopped and corrected, but they can also be prevented from impacting your family in the future.

Your children will be assessed by a therapist and reasons for their behaviour can be identified. Then, your family can heal. You all will be able to prevent more poor decisions from taking place, and you will have all kinds of resources to make sure this happens.

4. New Family Dynamics

If you have introduced a new dynamic to your family eg a blended or step family or new sibling or spouse, you might need some professional help. Failure to make sure there is a smooth transition could have horrible consequences for you. You run the risk of family members feeling lost in the new dynamic. 

Whether you have a new spouse or a new child, these changes could cause issues for your family. Seek out professional services through therapy to mitigate issues from harming those you love. Your family can morph into the new family you know it is capable of becoming. You all deserve this.

5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Substance abuse and mental health are issues that definitely warrant therapy at times. Both of these issues can ruin your family’s well-being. If you are dealing with substance abuse or mental health matters impacting your family, you do have options for help. Therapy will help you unlock those options.

Did you know that around 20 million Americans deal with addiction issues? And did you know that almost 44 million Americans deal with mental health issues? If you and your family are dealing with either or both of these problems, you are not alone whether you live in the USA or not. You should consider turning to therapy to help your family overcome these issues.

Your Family Can Indeed Heal

If any of the five issues above touch close to home for you, you have a way out. You do not have to let these issues tear apart your family that you love. Your family does not have to hurt so much anymore.

Each of the aforementioned five areas can be assessed, addressed, and improved when problems are there for your family. There is hope for your family with therapy, and your family absolutely can heal.

 

This blog was written by freelance writer Samantha Higgins.

 

‘The Meaning of Normal’: Living with a sibling with mental illness : Guest post by Shira

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(image: Thought Clothing)

It hasn’t been normal for so long that sometimes I forget what normal should feel like. When I try to think about it, it feels like a glimpse into someone else’s life, and I am an invasive stranger, trying to reach something that doesn’t belong to me.

What is normal?

Sometimes I think I remember it.

Sometimes I think that normal is that time when I was six and you were three and we didn’t fight. When we played hand in hand like every other child, and our entire world was pink and purple, and the most important thing to us was that our dolls had shiny blonde hair.

And we would play every game under the sun, from barbies to dollhouse to the convoluted imaginary ones that only we knew the rules to, and even then did we ever really know the rules?

I was a witch and you were the princess. We were both witches. We were both princesses. I stole your magic time machine but you found another one, and our living room became the entire universe as we ran through it, believing wholly in the pictures we created, the way that only children can.

But did we ever really exist like that? Were we ever those idyllic children, the children that every parent wishes to have?

Maybe our normal is all the times when I was ten and you were seven and we would push and shove and slap. You were my younger sister who could do no wrong and I was the older one, always blamed for both our shares of misdemeanours.

“You should know better!” They would shout

“But she started it!” I would pout.

“It’s not true!” your bottom lip would stick out.

I think we all know that I probably did start it.

We would fight and yell and cry and shout, never giving in, never admitting that we were wrong. Because we weren’t wrong. We were both right, all the time, every time, and the other was always painfully mistaken. And we roared and yelled and scratched each other, but knew only to cry when a parent was looking. And if nobody was looking, well then nobody would see if we punched back just one more time.

But were we ever really like this? Two demonic screaming children who were never silent and never content with just each other? Were we really the children that every parent dreads to have?

Maybe our normal is the way we grew apart as we grew older. When I was 15 and you were 12 and I would pretend not to know you as I walked past you in school. And maybe our normal is the way we would come home from the same school at the same time separately, both of us walking different routes from the bus because being seen with one another would be unacceptable. Maybe that’s what all teenagers do. Maybe that really was our normal.

Maybe our normal was what came next.

Maybe the years we didn’t talk to each other was what we were always heading towards. Because one day we would put down the dolls, and one day we would run out of things to fight about and we would just…exist.

One next to the other.

Sitting in silence.

Neither speaking.

Neither bothering to reach out first.

Because now I’m 18 and you’re 15 and I don’t remember the last time I spoke to you. The house is thick with anger, so thick that it poisons every interaction, and I couldn’t even tell you what I’m angry about. Because the sister I played with, the sister I happily fought with but would jump on anyone else who dared fight with her is in pain. So much palpable pain, and for the first time I couldn’t just make it go away.

Was I angry with you?

Yes.

Was I angry with myself?

Yes.

And so I let this become our normal. A normal where two siblings exist side by side, but don’t even know how to speak without offending. Where everything I say hurts you and everything you say angers me.

So we made this our new normal.

And I don’t care.

I don’t care.

I don’t.

I care.

And now I’m 20 and you’re 17 and I’m 3000 miles away. But this is our normal now. We don’t speak. We can’t speak. But it doesn’t even matter because there’s nothing to speak about anymore. How can I ask how you are when I already know the answer, and I know it’s not an answer I want to hear. How can you ask how I am when you’re too focused on making it through your own day without worrying about mine?

And anyway, it’s been a long time since we told each other how our day was. Not since I was 14 and you were 11 and we would awkwardly walk home from the bus stop together, backpacks moving up and down and up and down as we compared notes about school, neither of us loving it, neither of us willing to admit that out loud.

But we are not those children anymore, and we don’t have any shared experiences to talk about anymore.

I wonder if you miss me like I miss you. I wonder if you count down the days to my birthday too, hoping that we will both make it past 17 and 20, willing time to hurry up even though maybe all I really want to do is turn back the clock.

And then you are 18, and it’s been 18 years since I sat by your tiny cradle in the hospital and cried when we left, maybe because I wanted another chocolate bar from the hospital vending machine, or maybe because secretly I don’t want to leave my baby sister in a cold hospital far far away.

But now you are 18 and I’ve still left you in a hospital far away and it’s still just as hard to leave you there as it was all those years ago. But a 21 year old can’t lie down on the floor and have a tantrum so I keep going and keep going and this is our normal now.

A normal where you’re there and I’m here. A normal where we won’t speak for months on end but then I text you and tell you I miss you and now you answer me too, and I think you miss me too. A normal where we joke and laugh at stupid posts we see on Instagram,  tentatively, both of us till remembering when you were 14 and I was 17 and we ripped each other apart with words until neither of us said anything at all. Is this our normal now?

What is normal?

I looked it up for you.

 

NORMAL:

  • Conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected

 

But who gets to decide what that standard is? How do we know when something that once wasn’t normal now is, and if what was once normal is now anything but? Do we decide that? Or do others who stand by and watch get to decide that for us?

I’m sure someone could tell you the scientific answer. I’m sure there is a video out there with a detailed and meticulous answer laid out for us to study.

I’m sure somebody could tell us the answer. Maybe we haven’t even been normal, maybe we always were.

Maybe the imaginary games of our childhood were always meant to turn into imagined grievances causing real rifts. Maybe we were meant to grow apart and then come back together again, a little rougher but a little kinder. Maybe none of it was normal, or maybe all of it was.

Sometimes I wish I could change all of it. If I hadn’t said what I said that one day, or if I hadn’t slammed my door that one time, or if you hadn’t called me that name under your breath, things would all be different now.

But sometimes I know I can change none of it. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe if we hadn’t played all those games as children, if we had never walked down the road together from school, if I had never sent the texts you eventually answered, things would all be different now.

Normal isn’t for us to decide, it isn’t for me to determine. All I know is our normal is all we have, and I wouldn’t change us for the world.

About:

Shira is a writer living in Israel, drawing on every day life experiences. Her sibling lives with a diagnosed mental illness and she has bravely shared their story here.

 

 

 

Taking care of your child’s mental health: Guest blog by Chloe Walker

childmh1

(image: Power of Positivity)

Mental health is extremely important and has a significant impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. According to a recent survey by the NHS, one in eight 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed. As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child’s mental health. Fortunately, you can help improve your child’s mental health by creating a supportive family environment at home and learning the early warning signs of common mental health disorders, for example. With this in mind, here are some top ways to care for your child’s mental health. 

Develop a good bedtime routine 

Sleep plays a vital role in a child’s mental health. Research shows that there is a strong link between sleep problems and an increased risk of developing certain mental illnesses. In fact, one study found that four-year olds with sleep disorders have a much higher risk of developing symptoms of mental health conditions as six-year olds, when compared with children without sleep problems. Experts at Little Lucy Willow add – “Sleep keeps you calm, your mind alert, and recharges your body to enable you to get up and face each day.” For that reason, you must try and get your child into a good bedtime routine from a young age. Here are some top tips to help your child sleep better:

  • Create an ideal sleeping space by providing a comfortable bed, installing blackout curtains, and minimising any outdoor noise. 
  • Encourage your child not to use electronics like smartphones before bed. 
  • Get your child into a consistent routine where they go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Try to keep this the same on school days and weekends. 
  • Make sure that your child avoids any caffeine in the afternoon or evenings. 
  • Visit your GP if your child has been experiencing sleep problems for more than two weeks, or if the symptoms are interfering with their daily life. 

Exercise as a family 

Exercise plays an important role in a child’s overall health. Along with the physical benefits, regular exercise can greatly improve mental wellbeing. This is because physical activity releases endorphins in the brain which creates feelings of happiness and alleviates stress and anxiety. According to advice on the NHS website, children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

To give you an idea, examples of moderate intensity exercise include walking to school, riding a bicycle, and playground activities. Exercising as a family is an excellent way to encourage your child to be active. It also allows you to spend quality time together as a family and build closer bonds. Playing games in the garden, going for a walk in the park, or going on a bike ride, are all fun ways to exercise together as a family. You could also encourage your child to start playing a team sport they’re interested in, such as football, rugby, or hockey. 

Encourage open communication

You must create a welcoming family environment that is built around trust and understanding. This will help your child feel comfortable telling you about any issues surrounding their mental health. Encourage open communication in your family and make sure you check on your child if you notice any changes in their behaviour i.e. they become distant or their eating habits change.

Remember that children tell people how they are feeling in several ways, not always verbally. A sudden change in behaviour may signal that your child is struggling and needs support. Always listen to your child and empathise with their feelings. Let them know that it’s natural to feel down from time to time and offer support in any way you can.

If you’re still worried about your child’s mental health, then speak with your GP or contact a mental health specialist for further advice. 

Final thoughts 

Mental health illnesses in children are becoming increasingly common and can lead to several serious long-term effects. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to care for your child’s mental health. Encouraging healthy habits is a simple yet effective way to improve your child’s mental well-being. This should include exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep, and following a nutritious diet. Along with this, you should also educate yourself on the symptoms of common mental health conditions in children and create a warm, trusting home environment that encourages open communication. Speak to a medical professional if you need to.

This guest blog was written by professional writer Chloe Walker.

 

Christmas for CAMHS Campaign to brighten up Children’s Christmas in Mental health wards: Guest post

christmascam

(image: Christmas for CAMHS charity)

Christmas for CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are a registered charity providing gifts each year for children and young people who are in mental health units in the UK over the Christmas holiday. They say,

Our aim is to make as many children and young people who are inpatients over the Christmas holidays feel thought-about, special and included.

We have been hugely supported over the past few years by generous donations from the public and have received much gratitude as a result from inpatient units. However, we are only able to provide gifts with your charitable donations. ‘

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. They wanted to do something to change that and say,

‘Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to Children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about.’

Ro Bevan, doctor and founder says,

‘Five years ago I worked in a children’s hospital at Christmas time and there were many presents donated, mostly from corporate donors. There were so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year. A year later, I was working in child and adolescent mental health. We had no presents donated. Our patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team, paid for out of the ward’s budget – saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities, and other expenses. I posted about the inequality on Facebook and before I knew it, my post had goneviral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired me to start a group the following year and together we have raised over £1,000 to help children who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public.

‘We don’t know whether this disparity is because people just don’t know that there
are children in mental health hospitals, or whether it’s indicative of the stigma that
society attaches to mental health issues. Regardless, we’re hoping to raise
awareness and address the balance. Although this project started with a simple
Facebook post, it has already gone further than I ever could’ve imagined possible
and reaching units across the UK which is a dream come true.’

This year, a special advent calendar has been designed by Sam Barakat, featuring  positive quotes every day, rather than chocolate. As well as this, there will be 32 windows, one for every day from December 1st to January 1st. 50 will also be donated to mental health units via Christmas for CAMHS. Sam says, ‘For many, Christmas is a joyful time that is spent with friends and family. For others, it can be the hardest time of year. This could be due to past events, trauma,  loneliness  or mental illness. ‘

I (Eleanor) feel this is such an incredible campaign that will touch the hearts of many. I was in a CAMHS unit aged 16 over Christmas and think this will help many people.  

You can donate and buy a calendar here for someone struggling : https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-mental-wellbeing-advent-calendar?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

To donate to Christmas for CAMHS and give presents to ill children click here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/
CAMHS2019

Website and more information: www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk