livingwithablackdog

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Making Sense of It All 04/11/2011

A while ago I spent some time blogging about how we can talk to people about Depression – or about mental health issues in general.  But I left out a very important group of people.  Kids.

How do you talk to kids about mental illness?  How am I going to explain my Depression to the important children in my life?  How do you explain it to those in your own?  While people often worry about upsetting kids or frightening them by talking about mental illness – and I’m talking about the kids in your family or very close to you here; the facts indicate that most of the time children worry less about something if they understand it.  Providing them with opportunities to talk and to find out what they think is happening is important.  So is clearly and simply explaining what is actually happening in a way that they can understand.

But finding the right words to explain what needs to be said in kid language is a tough business.  Plus, adults struggle to share their feelings.  Again, accurate and age appropriate information are the best way to go – and this usually goes down best coming from a parent or another adult family member or close friend of the family.

So – how do you know when and how to do it?

If they ask questions about your or  the other person’s health – this is a good opportunity.  A number of resources suggest strategies like asking the child how they are feeling at the moment, if there has been an incident recently then perhaps ask them how they felt when such-and-such did this-or-that; or even if they thought you or the person were acting differently lately – depending on the age of the child.  But whenever you do – pick a time and place where you’re all most likely to be comfortable and feel safe and where you won’t be interrupted.

It’s suggested that you explore the child’s understanding of what’s going on – not just accept their first reply because they could easily just repeat someone’s words without clearly them.  Plus it’s important to know how they learned what they do know.  Also, make sure that you’ve understood properly what they have told you.

Ask questions that are open – that is, they require the child to do more than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Try to get them to say what they think in their own words.

Be ready to reassure them.  They might feel awkward.  They might feel distressed or disloyal or angry or be afraid of causing worry or getting into trouble.  Make sure they know that this is okay.

Now when you come to the explaining part:

There are lots of good resources take a look through some of them to prepare yourself for the talk or use them with the child.  (Please see links at end of post).

Keep some coloured pencils or pens and paper or some play dough handy.  Something that you can use to illustrate what you are telling them about or that you can ask them to draw something to help illustrate a point or  a feeling.  You may also write down thoughts or questions or plans together later (or draw their understanding of things for you when you are exploring what they know).

Think about examples of illnesses that children are familiar with that could be helpful in your explanation eg asthma, diabetes, broken bones, colds, chicken pox (some will depend on what they or their friends/family have had).  Be specific in the comparison that you make  eg asthma and depression both have triggers and physical signs even though they happen in parts of the body, both can seem to come out of nowhere … ; it is not like a cold because you can’t ‘catch’ it.

Or a common example is to compare the body to a car with different parts – different things work together to make the whole car work, but if something goes wrong then it can make the whole car run badly or not start.  In the case of Depression … (a good example of such an explanation can be found in Talking to Children and Young People )

The big ideas to communicate no matter what are:

  • Mental illness is nobody’s fault
  • It’s not YOUR (the kid’s) fault
  • It doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t love you or care about you anymore
  • It is not your responsibility to make the person better.
  • You can’t “catch” it
  • Just because someone else in your family has it doesn’t mean you’ll get it
  • It happens to lots of people, in lots of families – not just this person
  • The person won’t be like this all the time
  • There are treatments like medicine and people to go to for special conversations and doctors who know about this illness
  • It’s not just about the person thinking or feeling differently.  What is happening to the chemicals in their brain is different.

Here is a summary of an outline that I found about how to explain Depression to a child in an Australian COPMI program booklet.

Children can sometimes understand the impact of your illness more easily than they can its cause.  This means that it may be best to describe what the depression does to you rather than what depression is.

So you might tell them that Depression can cause:

  • no energy (making it harder to play)
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much (making it harder to get out of bed or keeping you up late at night)
  • crying a lot (sometimes when there is no apparent reason)
  • losing or gaining weight (because you don’t feel like eating or you eat too much)
  • not enjoying the things that you used to (means that sport or dancing or cooking or whatever it is doesn’t make you smile anymore)
  • make you tired and cranky (can make you get grumpy at the children for no real reason)

What does your depression make you do?

Depression is an illness.  It’s like having a cold or having asthma except it affects your brain.  Your brain controls the things you feel, think and do.

Everybody feels sad sometimes.

Everybody thinks bad things sometimes.

Everybody has things that they wish they could do, but can’t.

What makes your/this child(ren) sad?

What sort of things do they think about?

What do they wish they could do but can’t?

When someone has the illness called Depression, they can feel sad for a long time and not know how to feel better.

Depression can stop people being able to do things that they used to do and enjoy.

I hope that this gives you some ideas for some starting off points.  Seriously – do take the time to check out some of these links.  The first three have really informative and detailed guidelines in them.  The resource lists include children’s storybooks, links and all kinds of things and the other links have some wonderful things in them too.

I have found some other FANTASTIC resources for parents, siblings, extended family and close friends of children who have parents (or family members) with a mental illness.  Even one about babies for those with bubs or planning pregnancy.  There are more out there just waiting to be discovered.

COPMI stands for Children Of Parents with a Mental Illness.  It’s Australia’s national project over this area.

Piecing the Puzzle Together: Raising a Family When Mental Illness is Part of Your Life

Family Talk

Best for Me & My Baby

Talking to Children and Young People

 

 

Resources for Children aged up to 6yrs

Resources for Children aged 7 – 12 yrs

Resources for young people aged 13-18 yrs

Resources for Parents

Care Planning for a Family

Links for young people

 

Australian programmes offering support for children and young people with a parent or sibling with Mental Illness

Family to Family project booklets

When Things Are Sad And Gloomy : Understanding Mental Illness in your Family

 

Hair Raising Therapy 23/10/2011

I had only two posts for this weekend.

I had finished and scheduled them by Thursday.

My parents have come to visit – so I didn’t think I’d have time to blog.

But here’s the thing …

I’m too interested in the things I blog about to leave it alone.

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my early experiences of Mindfulness.  I hope that some people have found it valuable and that it has helped some to grasp a little more clearly the concepts behind it.

Being present in the moment, self-aware and able to be aware of your environment or choose to filter what you attend to.  Being able to focus your attention, your thoughts and meditate on or observe things.  To be deliberate in all of this.

It is a refreshing experience and helpful for many things from distraction to relaxation, to stress management and through to managing early warning signs and symptoms.  If you’ve not had the chance to learn it, I would highly recommend it.  It is a more concrete skill than it sounds at times.

I have had fun today.  I enjoyed having my 5 and 3/4 year-old niece do my hair for me this morning (one must not leave out the three-quarters!).  When I got home (after driving for a quite a distance and stopping to get out of the car and fill up with petrol) I believe that I pulled 7 elastics and 2 clips out of my not-so-very-long hair (ie it had bunches sticking out in all directions).

I don’t think that she believed that I was really going to leave it all in until I actually left.

Playing hairdressers with one’s niece is a lot like a dare.  She knew I looked silly, and didn’t really think I’d leave her handiwork in – but wanted to see if I would.

What she doesn’t know is the kind of things I did to my own hair for the hell of it when I was in my teens and went out with still in just because I was bored.

My niece is good therapy for me.  When I am with her I forget to be anything but open to what she wants to do (except if it involves running too far or something against the rules).  I lose most of my inhibitions and allow myself to play like a kid again.  She lets me enjoy the moment in her company for just that little while – and while I am with her I feel whole.

She is my favourite anti-depressant.

What’s yours?

 

Planning with Purpose 21/08/2011

In my last entry I wrote about going back to work.  I also made brief reference to having a need for some kind of productive activity if I wasn’t.  One of my regular readers made a comment that spoke directly to something really important.  The need for purposeful activity.  Not necessarily work – but activity that is goal directed and meaningful to you.  Activity in which you are setting out to achieve something that you are interested in achieving.  It doesn’t need to be paid activity, but it needs to provide you with a sense of purpose and achievement.  This reader suggested that – but for the expense of living, she would not even care so much about paid work as long as she had purposeful activity.  I have to say that I agree.  Sound odd?  It’s one of the biggest problems people have when they retire.  Not having planned for their need for purposeful activity.
The thing is – people have an innate need to do something.  Preferably something they value and something that is purposeful.  All you have to listen to one of the things that we complain about.
“I’m bored”, “There’s nothing to do”
“What’s the point of this?”, “This is a waste of time!”, “I hate doing this.”, “I’d rather …”, “I’m sick of doing this”, “None of this does anyone any good”
“When am I ever going to use this?”, “No-one’s going to look at it …”, “All I did was sit and look at the …”
Examination of research into the presentation of people with long-term unemployment and people with Depression actually show a lot of similarities.  Things like loss of routine, beginning to neglect personal appearance, poor diet, lack of activity, sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep habits, loss of motivation, social isolation, loss of self-esteem …
Of course for many there are possibly crossover elements of situational depression, however it is interesting to note that the lack of purposeful activity can have such a strong effect.  A study that I heard presented followed up some people some of whom pursued work – some full-time, some part-time; some of whom pursued volunteering.  The outcome – purposeful activity made an enormous difference to quality of life.
But other studies show that it does not even need to be work related.  Simply valued and purposeful – and it will improve quality of life and wellness.  Take up gardening.  Build a doll house for a kid.  Join a gym or walk somewhere every day.  Volunteer at a local charity, Church or club.  Write a book.  Go to a local community centre and check out the programme.  Do a course on something that interests you.  Join a book club.  Start meeting a friend for coffee regularly.  Take up cooking.  Invite a friend over for dinner.  Try that sport you always wanted to try – talk a friend or family member into coming with you if you like.  See if you can find some old friends you’ve lost contact with – you might be surprised how many want to catch up.  Try that hobby you always wanted to take up.  Research your genealogy.
Purposeful activity.  This is what forms the building blocks.  This is where a healthy routine can be built.  This is where a healing routine can be built.  Research says it works.  My training says it works.  My observations of the people I have worked with as a mental health worker say that it works.  My experience of healing says it works.
 

The Jealous Dog 22/07/2011

If there’s one thing that discourages a jealous dog, it’s competition.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Of course like everything that sounds simple there’s a journey involved in getting to the bit that’s simple.  And at times the times the ‘simple’ bit is anything but easy.

If you were to tell me in the depths of my depression that competition was all that was needed to discourage the dog – that having other, more enjoyable things around me would make life easier to manage I would probably knock you flat.  And I hit ‘like a girl’.  When I am unwell they probably do knock the edges off things, but enjoy … ? Perhaps.  I certainly need help to initiate the diversion and the routine.  Ah … the old ‘r’ word.  Yes, I must admit – it does help.  I just hate it.  I never feel like it and it’s damn hard to do.  Especially when I still lack the sense of enjoyment of anything.

But further on – about eight months ago I gritted my teeth and reestablished contact with a long-lost world.  The friend.  The ones I lost contact with during a couple of years of withdrawing from – well – life in general.  Initially it was very tentative.  After all – who would really want to be friends with me, right?  But no, contrary to my very localised opinion friends welcomed me back with enthusiasm … on-line, phone calls, coffees, visits and finally a trip to see someone who lived a long way away for a few days (I was very nervous about this one) which was lots of fun.  I now have friends who I talk to again regularly and see when our schedules allow it, an old school friend I catch up with regularly, friends kids who are excited when I come to visit and people who miss me if I’m not around.  I never thought I’d see the day.  I’m still not sure I believe it.  By rights I should have black and blue spots up and down my arms from where I have been pinching myself but if it’s not true, I’m not planning to end the dream any time soon.

Today is my first day at home after a couple of weeks on holidays – staying with the same friends that I visited earlier in the year.  I was originally going for a few days, but the family with whom I was staying voted unanimously that I should stay longer – so I did.  I visited with other friends and their families on the way home, including one family not far from home where I stopped in filthy weather with an hour’s notice to drop onto their couch for a night.

Amidst all of this my dog stayed at heel without challenge.  This is amidst ongoing bungles with a return to work plan that has been drawn out for months.

My dog is shy around people who value me.

I need to remember this next time he pulls me in close to home.

A black dog needs a little competition from people who care.  He just wants me to believe that there aren’t any.  I did once and it turned out to be a lie.  I must remember this for another day.

My dog lies.

 

 
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