With the conversation around mental health constantly growing, I am proud to be part of a generation that is slowly (but surely) becoming more and more aware of this issue. This includes conversations from how we identify and manage mental illnesses to mental health within black households. Parents are being taught how to communicate better with their children and young people are becoming more aware on how they can help a friend who might be a sufferer. But who is teaching young people how to handle the effects of mental illness when their parents are the victims?
In a fast paced world, it can be so easy to forget to check in on our parents. Growing up, we are given this picture perfect image of our parents, convinced they are invincible. They are able to handle anything and everything. At 20 years old, I sometimes look back at my teenage years and think of the hurtful words I screamed at my mother without any regard for the effect it could have on her emotionally. But of course, mental health goes beyond simply feeling “sad”, there are over 200 classified forms of mental illness. I simply write this article to remind us we are all vulnerable. Whether you are ten, twenty-five, fifty-four or eighty, we are all susceptible.
I was 16 when my mother was diagnosed with anxiety. And in all honesty, it was a problem I was keen on running away from because of my lack of education about mental health and a lack of confidence. I felt ineffective. But fast forward four years later and I am now in a position where I’ve learnt some things I wish I had known back then. I hope my words find the child who is struggling to cope with a parent who is also at war with this illness.
As the only daughter and youngest in a family of three children, it took me a long time to realize my mother needed me as much as I needed her. The bond of a mother and daughter is one that is often described incomparable to any other relationship. We are taught that mothers are invincible. From a young age we see them as indestructible caregivers before we acknowledge that they are people too. This is part of the problem.
Mothers with ill mental health may suffer in silence because they believe that they are not allowed to be mentally ill. So many women are defined by motherhood that they do not allow themselves to be their own person outside of that. In addition to this, we as children do not make this any easier when we expect our mothers to be healthy and provide for us both emotionally and literally. It can be difficult for a mother to share her worries with her children and almost painful for a child to hear their mother’s worries.
Allowing yourself to be uncomfortable is always the beginning of growth. Let’s begin to allow ourselves to be there for our mothers, to listen to her express her doubts, to learn to know what comforts her, to understand that she is a person before she is a mother. Don’t be afraid of asking questions. Allow the conversation to go beyond “How are you?” Ask about specific things you know might be the reason why she stays up at night praying. Where you are able to, comfort her with reassurance. Sometimes all it takes is one conversation to make us see things from a completely different point of view. For the first time in my life, I saw vulnerability in my mother’s eyes. But through my situation I have found strength to fight this battle with her. I found a voice in me that isn’t “too young” to care for my mother, that isn’t “too young” to be the one comforting her with words other children would recognize from their own mother’s tongues.
In my situation, my mother mainly worries about me, so I’ve learnt to be one step ahead. Always letting her know what problems I have and how I am going to tackle them. Whether it be my education, work or finances I have noticed it helps my mother to know that I have a plan. At this point, I stress that some strategies won’t work for everyone, but the important thing is working towards finding what will work. Today I write this article advising you not to run, but instead, understand that there is power in a child’s voice. In your voice.
Written by Rudairo Chitsenga