Monday 20 August 2018

'The father just didn't understand how his suicidal son could feel so stressed'

Educating parents will be key to solving our children's mental health crisis

SUPPORT: Dr Gillian O’Brien, clinical director of mental health charity Jigsaw, says that educating parents is one of the most important aspects of providing help for young people with mental health needs. Photo: David Conachy
SUPPORT: Dr Gillian O’Brien, clinical director of mental health charity Jigsaw, says that educating parents is one of the most important aspects of providing help for young people with mental health needs. Photo: David Conachy
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

The young man always stands out in Dr Gillian O'Brien's memory. "He was just 19 at the time of his suicide attempt, a really serious overdose, and he'd ended up in hospital in Dublin," O'Brien, a clinical psychologist, recalls.

"The dad told me about getting the call to say the son was in hospital. He said he couldn't believe it. 'I raced to my son's bedside and held his hand and when he woke up, I said to him, son how could you do this yourself?' The son replied, 'I'm just so stressed about things' and the dad said: 'You? Stressed? Listen to me, when you have a mortgage, a wife and kids to deal with, come back to me and talk about stress'. He totally dismissed the experience, and believe me, that man really did love his son."

For O'Brien, the clinical director of Jigsaw, a mental health charity for young people, this anecdote seemed to exemplify the difficulties that still exists when it comes to Irish parents and children having open conversations about mental health. "A lot of parents don't know where the line is between a real problem and adolescent growing pains," she explains. "A lot will ask, is this thing that's happening to my son or daughter 'normal'? When does staying in bed all day become a problem, for instance? We run a lot of training and workshops for parents, where we try to give answers to questions like that. In my experience, when a lot of people come to us, they might disclose what's really going on with them and when we say, 'have you told your mum or dad', they say no. We communicate to parents that they're not to lose their head, no matter what they are told."

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