Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

The letter

For the last 12 days DH, the children and I have been on holiday. We’ve had a wonderful time staying with DH’s family and having lovely days out. Today we came home and once we’d brought everything in from the car I sat down to check through the post for anything that needed urgent attention. And there it was.

Children’s Services have received a referral from the NSPCC. The referral has raised concerns for your children’s welfare. Please contact the Children’s Access Point on the above telephone number so we can discuss the matter further. You will need to speak to the duty social worker.

Hands shaking, I showed the letter to DH before shutting myself in the bedroom to make the call. The duty social worker was very pleasant and explained that someone had contacted the NSPCC anonymously to report that they were concerned about my children’s welfare. Apparently the complaint was very detailed but of course the social worker couldn’t tell me too much in case it helped me identify who the individual was. Which is fair enough. What he did say, though, is that this person was very concerned because a) DH and I both have mental health issues, b) I am open about my mental health “without considering the impact it may have on the children’s welfare”, and c) because the children suffer from “poor nutrition”.

I have to admit, I find the third one mildly amusing. Anyone who has seen how healthily my children eat and how much they can pack away (second helpings are common and third helpings have been known on occasion) knows that they’re definitely not malnourished or lacking in any kind of nutrition. I’ll be honest, a lot of the time they eat better than DH and me! They’re both slender but full of energy, and no-one in a position of responsibility (doctors, teachers, children’s centre staff etc) has ever expressed any sort of concern about their wellbeing.

I gave the social worker a brief summary of DH’s and my mental health: our diagnoses, that we’re both stable on medication, that we both see our GPs regularly and that DH sees his psychiatrist every month as well as going to support groups each week. I explained that we both have supportive families who we see regularly, as well as some very supportive friends. I gave the social worker the contact details for our GPs and DH’s psychiatrist, and we both gave full permission for them to tell Children’s Services whatever they need to know.

Now, a few hours later, the shock has worn off and to be completely honest, I’m not angry so much as sad. I’m sad that someone who seems to know us had concerns about our children but didn’t talk to us about it. I’m sad that once again the stigma that surrounds mental illness has touched our lives; would the person have called the NSPCC about my physical illness, which actually has far more of an effect on the children? I doubt it. I’m sad because the comment about the children’s nutrition makes it seem as though this is a malicious complaint rather than someone who’s genuinely concerned but perhaps a bit misguided. But most of all I’m sad because Children’s Services are now wasting their precious time investigating me and DH instead of spending it helping children who are actually being abused, neglected and ill-treated.

I have absolutely no intention of keeping quiet about mental illness. If anything, this has made me even more determined to speak up about it. I disagree that being open about mental illness will have a negative impact on my children; I think that hiding our illnesses and lying about them would be far worse. Particularly when there is evidence to suggest that depression and bipolar disorder may be inheritable! The children aren’t aware of mental illness yet but as with everything else we will answer the children’s questions honestly and at an age-appropriate level when they’re asked. And we will continue to teach them to accept everyone regardless of illnesses, disabilities or any other differences.

I’m confident that after the investigation has run its course the complaint will be dismissed. Of course there’s still a small voice whispering “But what if they decide to take the children anyway?” in the back of my mind; this is precisely the kind of situation that my anxiety is centred on but I’m doing my best to ignore that. My children are happy, healthy and well looked after, and I know that social workers aren’t the big bad child-snatchers that they’re often suggested to be. I hope that this will be resolved quickly, and that whoever called the NSPCC can rest easy knowing that my children are absolutely fine.

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Comments on: "The letter" (28)

  1. Claire S said:

    Well said. xxx

  2. Channelling my inner Victor Meldrew here but…”I don’t believe it”!
    What utter tosh, I can not understand why anyone would do such a thing. Their intentions may have been from a good place, but you (from what you share) are obviously devoted parents who want nothing but the best for your children. I can not see how anyone would come to any other conclusion.
    I do hope this is resolved quickly and it had better be in your favour or I’ll do something drastic, like I don’t know cry or something, gah…this makes me angry.

  3. I’m actually really impressed at your attitude towards this – most people would be raging, and having worked in child protection I know that the calm (although justifiably a bit confused and upset) attitude will make a big difference. I absolutely support your right to educate your kids about such an important issue in such a positive and healthy way (when the time comes) and I would hope that the professionals checking things out on the basis of this report will realise that and it will be over very soon. As you say, the nutrition bit does make the report sound a bit malicious, and this will be very obviously demonstrated to be inaccurate, and I can only imagine how upsetting this is, when it is something that you rightly pride yourself on, never mind the rest of the comments!
    On the other hand, I grew up in an abusive household that wasn’t investigated (despite obvious frequent injuries etc), and I do think it’s right that when a report is made that it is looked into, after all if your children were not being provided with adequate nutrition this would not be okay. I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying this is the case with your family, and I expect that the professionals will realise this very quickly and leave you to get on with what you are doing – bringing up your children to be tolerant, thoughtful and responsible individuals.
    Will be thinking of you.
    Lucas

    • I completely agree! I would far rather that all reports were investigated, including this one, than that children who are at risk were overlooked. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. What a way to end your holiday. Absolutely, there’s no reason to not be open about your diagnosis. I’m sorry the stigma of mental ill health has stung you in this way. I hope you get it resolved soon. xxx

  5. edward Ian Kendrick said:

    I’m so sorry someone has such an issue with your brave stance on mental health and your openness about it. I know you’ll be fine, but I’m sad that someone would do this. You’ll be fine. You guys are awesome. It’s the other person that has the problem.

  6. (((hugs))) very well done you for keeping calm, that could NOT have been easy. Hope it’s all over and done with quickly xx

  7. Mikachu said:

    Allow me to be angry enough for the two of us! How dare someone criticise my sister and brother-in-law’s parenting when their children are blatantly loved, cared for, properly fed & being brought up to be very caring and thoughtful young people.
    You are two of the best parents I know and, speaking as a teacher, if I had ever seen anything I was mildly concerned about, you’d know about it! I’m really proud of the dignified approach you’re taking to this. You’re amazing and I love you. xxx

  8. Jesus, I cannot believe that. So impressed with how you’re handling the situation – I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of such a letter. I completely agree with you about being open and honest about mental health issues with your children, and it’s a much healthier attitude than to hide it away. Huge respect to you, you totally kickarse!

  9. rosewiltshire said:

    Oh goodness that sounds horrendous! You’re really brave about all this. I hope this gets resolved soon.

  10. We had exactly the same problem. It is ridiculous this idea that we shouldn’t be open about our illness, can you imagine them saying that you were too open about something physical?

  11. I would challenge that physical illness has more of an effect on children than mental illness. I have seen what effect mental illness can have on children and it is devastating and has far-reaching and long term consequences.
    Your husband’s anger issues and your issues are well documented on your Twitter feed.
    While I understand your desire to speak about mental health and the struggles, I similarly understand how somebody could have come to the, undoubtedly, wrong conclusions.
    Nonetheless, it is underhand to the point of malicious to contact NSPCC. I am sorry you have had to go through this. Perhaps though, it should be a lesson learnt. You never fully know everyone you come across on social media.

    • I wrote that my physical illness has more of an effect on my children than my mental illness, because it does. I wasn’t saying that that is always the case. And you’re right, I don’t know a lot of the people I interact with on Twitter, but I don’t use my real name and I never name the children, so I think it unlikely that that’s the source of the report.

  12. Insane in the membrane said:

    Yes, mental illness can affect children badly. It doesn’t tend to be exactly a picnic for either the sufferer or anyone around them.
    I’ll tell you what’s worse though. Not acknowledging it. So you make your children’s life a misery at times cause you’re so full of bottled up struggles. And then when your children inherit the problems, or develop them partly as a result of their upbringing, they’ve no experience of it and just think they’re weird. No one supports them, because that would mean the rest of the family acknowledging their own issues. In fact, it’s made very clear to the kid that the rest of the family are totally sane, and they’re crazy.
    I don’t like the suggestion that Sam and her husband are at fault for being open about their issues. I can tell you that mental health issues are tough enough without us all being made to feel that we shouldn’t talk about them for fear of what others will think. Talking about them is vital for recovery and the lessening of stigma and I can promise you Sam’s honesty and support have helped me and countless others no end.
    That it should be a ‘lesson learned’ sounds exactly like the kind of constant victim blaming many of those with mental health issues experience. The only person at fault here is the one who made the malicious accusation.

  13. Hi Sam – so sorry you had this to deal with after your holidays! What a malicious waste of everyone’s time… Keep doing what you’re doing, and especially keep talking openly about your mental health, this is exactly why we need to be open, so eventually these people (whoever it was – twitter troll??) learn that mental illness is like other forms of illness:
    – quite common
    – quite treatable
    – perfectly normal (we all have brains, just like any other organ, sometimes things go a bit wrong with them)
    – absolutely no impediment to good parenting, with the right treatment and management.

    Thanks for sharing this, I think we all need more educating on what SS does and does not do – and how even today we still face so much stigma.

    Best of luck, Kx

    • Just read through others comments… Completely agree with Insane in the Membrane, re affects on children who are brought up in houses which are secretive about mental illness. i had absolutely no idea (and neither did my mum) that my late Gran had also suffered postpartun psychosis. if we had known, we might have better understood what was happening to me and it might have been slightly less frightening… I think Mrs M is completely misguided – there is NO lesson to be learned here, keep doing as you are doing! The only lesson is that, sadly, some people are quite unreal when it comes to mental illness…

    • Thank you very much.

  14. I agree with you. This is a very sad state of affairs. Why someone would take it upon themselves to make a formal complaint about your children’s welfare is baffling. I have no truck with people who don’t even have the decency to speak to the party, or parties, concerned first.

    It would be understandable if you were knife-wielding, misanthropic thugs but clearly you are loving, well-intentioned parents.

    This probably doesn’t help you in the short-term but I can see no reason how this complaint can ultimately be taken seriously. It just doesn’t stack up.

    Anyone with mental health issues should be allowed to freely discuss them, with anyone who cares to listen. Better to talk about it than be debilitated by silence and secrets. It’s not for everyone, to be open about such things, but is shows a lot of strength, and plain common sense, on your part that you are able to talk about it.

    Anyway, I don’t know you but I know enough about you (via Twitter, etc.) to know that this complainant is, at the very least, mischief-making, and at worst, stigmatising and discriminating against good people who happen to have mental health issues (which, let’s be honest, most people suffer from at some points in their lives).

    Best wishes.

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