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Navigating the Depths: The Unspoken Realities of Parenting Your Child in Crisis.

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of child mental health struggles, including references to suicide and emotional distress. It may be triggering or distressing for some readers. Please proceed with caution and prioritise your mental well-being while reading. If you are experiencing a crisis or need immediate support, please reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.

Child mental health – we talk about it all the time. At Bridge the Gap, we emphasise the importance of proactive and preventative emotional education, as well as safe, child-friendly early interventions, but what lies underneath these gentle words? What about the true reality of being a parent to a struggling child? Why do we want this work to happen early? Why do we want quality emotional 'swimming' lessons to be accessible to every child?

The true reality of being a parent to a child struggling with their mental health is indescribable. In fact, being the loved one of anyone struggling is really tough, but there's something about seeing your child (the child who you have been programmed to believe your sole purpose is to keep them safe and happy) feel like they are not worthy of being here anymore, that life is not worth living; it's beyond soul-destroying. This struggle can continue for many years, and let's be honest, more often than it should, parents are faced with a heart-breaking and unhappy ending.

The information and education we talk about is often information we 'don't know we need to know, until we need to know it', but having the latest information on parenting styles, brain development, and the reasons behind why so many children are wanting to end their life is information that saves lives. At Bridge the Gap, we want to make a positive difference in the mental health statistics in this city, we want to do that even further by offering a private service elsewhere, but one thing is clear: we have to do this by focusing on early intervention.

Imagine waking up every morning and being too afraid to enter your child's bedroom for fear of what you will see and find. Imagine feeling like if you stay in bed just a little longer, your reality can stay the same just a moment longer. Every day, wondering if today will be the day you fail to keep them alive. Yes, you fail. That's how you are made to feel because you have tried and tried to access support and help for years, and it has all felt fruitless, the task is left with you. It has made no difference, and your child no longer feels that anything will help. Hope is fading.

We talk about statistics, but we forget these are children. Each 'stat' is a family member – a son, daughter, brother, sister, grandchild, nephew, niece, and cousin. It's a member of a school or university community. It's a life that is worth something, worth everything. When even at this crisis point you can get turned away as a parent, the toll that takes on you is suffocating, like you are treading in the deepest of waters with a lifeboat in the distance, and it is floating further and further away.

A stormy sea in black and white, a lifeboat can be seen on the horizon in the distance.
Suffocating at Sea

You never imagine this could happen to you; nobody thinks they could be faced with this reality. Coronation Street are covering this at the moment in a storyline with Maria and her son Liam. After severe bullying, she found that he had been searching for ways to end his life on the internet, upon attending the GP, she was told that it would likely be weeks or months before support could be accessed. In our anecdotal experience, the reality of the wait in our area is much longer; whether they have the resources to meet the needs of the child when they do get seen is another can of worms to open.

When a child or young person is feeling low and searching for answers they are most likely to head to the internet and social media, this gives them access to a vast array of content that can be created and shared by anyone – I repeat, anyone. Although there are great professionals out there creating valuable content to help and support, the algorithm is also likely to serve them up a vast array of other users who are creating content of a similar theme, with or without good intentions, but without appropriate professional experience. We can therefore easily find our children immersed in an echo chamber of unhelpful thoughts and ideas.

The system we have fails these families, these parents, and their beloved children, parents feel ashamed for thoughts and feelings of frustration and anger towards their child as their own brain enters emergency mode. In our service, we have limited clinical resources and none of the protection that surrounds NHS services, which makes it hard, but even children escalating to this point need safe emotional support - and it's not a quick fix. It's a relationship-focused process that gives children and families time. We understand just how much funding it takes to offer these services; we understand more than most, but we can't lose sight of the impact it can make.

As a parent, you don't want to be told there's more stuff that you have to do for your child when you are at capacity and have done all you can, when you yourself are rung out from fear, worry and exhaustion. The fight is so hard.

When a child is at a crisis point, reaching them is so much harder, the life-saving ring needs a much longer rope attached to reach. Systems need to change, proper money needs investing in services. We need to learn more, but we have to have means of doing this proactively, whilst we aren't 'treading water'. The earlier we can support and educate the more likely a child's thinking and problem solving brain can kick into action, it's still something that needs to be an ongoing form of learning and practice, but it's something that should feel comfortable, enjoyable even. Just think of the physical energy needed to tread water, then try and imagine at the same time as doing so you are told you need to think, engage and put principles into practice.

We want children to be able to emotionally swim through this modern world, to be able to tread water when they need to until they can surf life's waves again. The more we practice, the earlier we start, the better our stamina.

If your child is struggling right now, I have left information below for you. I know, another link, right? It's beyond frustrating, but please, please do still explore them. If you haven't accessed our own free course as well, do take a look at that. If you can, try and spend time with them. Play and nature can be a helpful break for you both and are how we naturally manage and regulate stress and emotions.

I wish I had a wand to wave, I really do, but I don't. What I do have, though, is hope. Hope for you if you feel your tank has run empty; it's still there, and I will safeguard it for you. Please talk to people you trust and can empathise with, not judge. You need space to release some of the emotions you are holding in – the emotions that are causing headaches, fatigue, and sleepless nights.

For anyone reading this whose child is not in crisis, please explore the proactive resources and support out there. Learn more about Emotional Literacy and reflective parenting styles that can scaffold your child's emotional health and development. Educate yourself around what you can do if you are faced with a more challenging situation. Knowledge is power.

So, when we talk about emotional literacy and education, when we talk about 'proactive' support and learning 'coping tools', don't think for a moment that we aren't doing this without a very real lived experience of what it's like to be a parent on the other side of that. Emotional literacy and education aren't fluffy concepts; they're essential tools that can save lives. For parents who wish they had known sooner, who yearn for support, we stand with you. We believe in you and your child, and we understand the fear you live with.

This isn't just about statistics; it's about real lives and real struggles. It's about making a difference now to save lives in the future.

A black and white image of a humped bridge, you can see the reflection of the bridge in the water below it and silhouettes of bare trees stand either side of it.
Bridge the Gap

FREE Online Learning with Bridge the Gap. This course was developed to help give parents and carers valuable information and ideas on how to support a child in crisis or experiencing anxiety.

Bridge the Gap have a free digital download on supporting a child who is self-harming, it also discusses suicidal ideation in young people.

Download this free download here.

Young Minds are a National Charity doing all they can to help advocate for early intervention and support for children struggling with their mental health. They have a wide range of resources for both parents and children.

Papyrus are a national youth suicide prevention charity, Your child can also speak to the Papyrus HOPELINE, which supports young people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. They can call 0800 068 4141 between 9am - midnight, any day of the year.


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