Help for young carers...
About two million children and young people between five and 18 in England and Wales have a parent suffering from mental illness. According to family psychiatrist Dr. Alan Cooklin, 70% of these children are profoundly affected. ‘They typically miss school and suffer high levels of anxiety, which may lead to subsequent depression. They tend to feel alone and guilty because they think it is somehow their fault.’ Although more is being done to support young carers in general, ‘This group remains neglected, particularly the effect it [the parent’s mental illness] has on their development and future prospects,’ says Dr Cooklin. To remedy this, he set up Kidstime Foundation in 2012, building on the monthly workshops he has run since 2000. Key to the Kidstime approach is explaining to children what is going wrong in their parent’s brain. Both children and parents take part in the workshops.
Kirsty Tahta-Wraith’s father has bipolar disorder. Her mother, who has ME, left the family when Kirsty and her twin sister were two. She has witnessed her father having ‘horrible’ psychotic episodes since she was seven. ‘His behaviour becomes erratic: he gets hyper and can’t sleep – he can walk for a whole day and night sometimes. When the episode is peaking he starts talking all the time – it’s half reality and half fantasy.’ Recovery takes several months, involving a month or more in hospital, then follow-up care with different drugs.
Now 20, Kirsty and her sister were referred to Kidstime 12 years ago. ‘Going to the sessions helped me to understand what to expect and how to deal with my dad’s episodes. It made them much less scary and took away most of the worry and panic.’
One problem Kirsty found was that ‘you can’t talk about it at school because you know it makes you different. But at Kidstime, children talk about mental health all the time so you can stop holding in your feelings. It’s comforting, and I felt more accepting of my dad.’
So that more children can benefit, Kidstime Foundation is launching an online project called Who Cares?, which offers a comprehensive kit of materials for schools. It includes filmed segments with young carers telling their stories, introduced by volunteers including Kirsty, who is now studying psychology at university.
I want to appeal to your generosity this Christmas to help raise funds for the Who Cares? project.
Both my parents suffered mental illness, and I found my heart thumping as I wrote this because talking to Kirsty brought back so many memories (as did speaking with Ambeya, whose story is on www.you.co.uk). Helping these youngsters understand what is happening is so important.
• For more details about Kidstime Foundation and Who Cares?, and to donate, go to www.kidstime.thedigitalacademy.com
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK; www.notanotherbunchofflowers.com
Anikka Burton, 36, set up this gift site for people going through cancer treatment after her own experiences when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Friends and family brought flowers, which were confiscated by the hospital, and gifts she couldn’t use. So Anikka set up the site with useful and safe treats, from anti-nausea sweets to cosy dressing gowns, even funky walking sticks. As well as standard delivery, Anikka offers a next day service.
During winter, most of us are now known to be short of vitamin D, the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, which is crucial for healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, type 1 diabetes, some cancers and asthma. Although foods such as oily fish, liver, eggs and fortified cereals provide vitamin D, it is hard to get enough from diet alone. The government now advises all one- to five-year-olds, pregnant women and the elderly to take a supplement, and many experts believe everyone should do the same. Asda pharmacies are offering a free 30-day supply until the end of the year. I take Better You D Lux Spray (£7.95); try D Lux Junior Vitamin D Oral Spray for children aged five years plus (£6.25), both from www.victoriahealth.com.