The majority of the young people in our Day School attend while in the process of dealing with a range medical or mental health challenges. These young people receive support from multiple agencies, including ourselves.
But their parents? There’s often very little – or no – support for them.
In fact, it can be the opposite. Parents/carers often talk of being misunderstood or, in the case of systemic approaches, even feeling blame and shame as the cause of the problems.
For example, where a child is diagnosed with an attachment disorder, there is rarely a setting in which the parents can discuss the effect of this on their own lives. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but these parents be seen as culprits in regard to their child’s condition. This can leave them feeling isolated and distrustful of the very necessary professional intervention taking place, which they may feel lays blame at their door or further damages their existing relationship with their child.
We need to recognise that a lot of store is placed on so called perfect parenting these days, with some parents competing to have the most able, well-rounded child. Parents of children with mental health challenges may rightly or wrongly see themselves as ostricised.
The truth is that mental health issues can happen to anyone, at anytime, for a myriad of reasons. We need an environment in which we feel compassion for parents rather than judgment. We need to remember that parents can often be the victim of unhelpful parenting models themselves.
We should trust parents to be able to learn from each other that the support and advice of someone else who is going through or has gone through similar experiences is often as powerful as the voice of the expert.
While parent groups exist for all parents including powerful online forums like Mumsnet, there is little in the way of specific provision for this particular group. Young Minds attempted to create an online forum at shareyourstory.org.uk that is no longer operational.
Schools need to do more. We are trying to develop a very localised model here at the school that builds on kinds of existing psychoeducational work already taking place in the hospital but we are unaware of any national approach to developing parenting forums around this area of need?
1 in 10 young people are experiencing a mental health challenge and this constitutes a large number parents who either locally, regionally or nationally would benefit from the opportunity to share their experiences and offer support to other parents facing similar situations.
Alex Yates is headteacher at the Royal Free Hospital School, London