If you’ve been here a while or have me as a friend on social media, you’ll know that my 11-year-old son has struggled with his mental health for quite a few years. Some of this stemmed from having bad teachers at school. His mental health was so bad that we were referred to CAMHS, the Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Service here in the United Kingdom. This referral came after I had exhausted all of my own resources to help with his mental health issues and tools to raise his self-esteem. Today I’m going to give you an update about how he’s doing and what I’ve done to help him battle depression and anxiety.
Asking for help
Back in November 2020, I called our GP and told them about Punky’s mental health struggles. I told them about his depression getting so bad that he was actively suicidal. I cried on the phone while detailing the things he would reveal to me at bedtime, and begged for help. Telling someone that your child was suicidal is heart-wrenching. The GP wrote a referral to CAMHS but told me gently that it could be a long wait. They had a nearly two-year waiting list at that point but were told that he may be pushed higher into the queue because of the severity of his symptoms. The school was notified by the GP and asked to look out for signs that Punky was struggling.
CAMHS Appointment, finally!
Fast forward to August 2021, we had our CAMHS appointment! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting this. We were told that because at that point he was no longer suicidal, they couldn’t help us. They gave me a few resources via links that I’d already visited, and the recommendation of a book called “Helping Your Child with Fears and Worries. A self-help guide for parents” by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willets. CAMHS also suggested we check in with the school nurse and tell them about his struggles. You should have seen the expression on my face after the video call was over. Let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.
If you click on the picture above, you’ll be taken to the Amazon link for this book. This is not an affiliate link. I do not make money from your purchase of this book.
Not what we were expecting
The initial thoughts running through my mind were “Wait, aren’t you supposed to help children with mental health issues?” “What the ever-loving fuck?!” “So, you’re telling me that because my kid doesn’t want to off himself, there’s no help available?”. I told you it wasn’t pretty. Of course, I didn’t talk about my frustration with the CAMHS team to Punky, but I did unload all of that frustration on Mr. H. after Punky had gone to bed. We all feel severely let down by the CAMHS team and the availability of NHS mental health services for children.
The only thing I could do to reassure Punky that everything was going to be ok was to continue what we were doing at bedtime. He would get all snuggled into his bed, and tell me what he was feeling and thinking about the day. These chats would sometimes last hours because I wasn’t going to leave him until he was relaxed enough to rest. Punky would tell me what he was afraid of. He was having visual hallucinations at that point, telling me that he saw monsters lurking in his room. Great big shadowy figures with glowing red eyes that were ready to attack him. I told him that those “monsters” were manifestations of his depression and anxiety, and they weren’t real. They can’t hurt him or touch him.
The Anti-Monster Spray is a miracle!
The night that he told me about his monsters, I filled an empty spray bottle with warm water and a couple of drops of lavender extract. I made and printed out a label that said “Anti-Monster Spray. Get rid of Monsters in a flash!”. I had Punky do a “monster check” – looking at all the places in his room that monsters could be hiding. If he felt like something was lurking, he’d spray a squirt of anti-monster spray in that area of his room. This turned out to be surprisingly helpful! Not the most beautiful of labels, but it worked!
We also tried to make his hallucinations a little bit silly. I told him that when he saw the “monsters” to imagine them wearing funny hats, or shoes that were 10x too big for their body. Imagine that the monsters were wearing silly ties with ducks on them, or very bright makeup with gigantic fake eyelashes. Doing this made the monsters not so scary, and Punky was able to relax and go to sleep.
I made a mantra printable for Punky to hang in his room. This reminds him that he is smart and powerful, and funny, and all the things a child needs reminding of sometimes. Every night we look at the picture and I tell him all of the reasons I love him. He goes to sleep feeling loved and cared for, and believing he is an awesome kid. He IS an awesome kid! I just want him to see all of the wonderful qualities I see in himself.
I ordered the book that CAMHS recommended, and surprisingly, it has been extremely useful. We have been working through the exercises that are outlined in the book. I recreated the worksheets in the book so I can easily print them out. Punky has set his three goals and has been working through them. If I had known about this book sooner, I would have purchased it right away!
Punky’s current mental health
At the moment, we’re still continuing to work through the steps outlined in the recommended book and talking about his feelings at night. But, things have gotten a lot better for Punky (and for me too!). Punky is sleeping much better, is less anxious, and he is no longer as depressed as he was. I have Punky do a little breathing exercise to regulate his thoughts before bed. I’m also making sure that he’s heard, knows he’s loved, and ask him if there’s anything I can do as a parent to make him feel more secure.
On a scale of 1-10, when I contacted CAMHS, he was at a 15 out of 10. Right now, he’s sitting at a 4 out of 10 on a bad day. We’re working on building his self-esteem and confidence as well. Oh, and Punky no longer needs the anti-monster spray! I do still have it around if he needs it though. He still does a quick monster check at night but isn’t as frantic about it.
All in all, I’d say things were going very well! I’ll continue to update you all with Punky’s progress in a few months.
Don’t wait to ask for help!
If your child is having trouble with depression and anxiety, I highly recommend the book “Helping Your Child with Fears and Worries. A self-help guide for parents” by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willets. Don’t wait until things get extremely bad to ask for help!
I’m going to wrap up this post, but as always, I hope you have a wonderful day!