Q&A with a mother and father
Stuart and Chris, VIC
In hindsight the signs were there from early teens...
Nick is a member of the headspace Youth National Youth Reference Group (hYNRG), his mum (Chris) and dad (Stuart) were interviewed about how they supported him through obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
When did you first notice that something wasn't right?
Chris (mum): In hindsight the signs were there from early teens as Nick would do things like not being able to go to bed unless an item was placed on a certain angle and he would always place his chap sticks in ascending order and in a perfectly straight line. These tendencies worsened and it wasn't until he left school and his obsession with cleaning in particular began to take over that it really began to impact on his life.
Stuart (dad): Really it was when Nick came to us and told us he wasn't coping. From memory, he had been up all night worried about a helicopter flying over the house. He hadn't slept and was very tired and emotional.
What steps did you take?
Chris: Firstly Nick saw a GP and then was referred on to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him, provided him with some strategies and put him on medication. He also spent time with his very supportive uncle who also has OCD and this was crucial in allowing Nick to discuss privately and openly about what he was experiencing to someone who totally understood what he was going through.
How did you feel during this time?
Chris (mum): I felt very sad for him and obviously concerned and anxious about how he would manage. Initially it was a very difficult time as I felt I couldn't talk to family or friends for fear that they just wouldn't understand. With my husband and other two sons we had to reassess our own responses as where his brothers in particular would tease Nick for folding his clothes, emptying bins etc. they began to realise that this was serious and they needed to back off. Attending a counselling session with Nick's psychiatrist as a family was an important step for us all as we knew that we needed to work together to help support Nick through a very tough period.
Were there any times when you were particularly worried?
Chris (mum): I remember one time in particular when Nick was vacuuming his car at 2 a.m. in the driveway and I went out and asked him to try and get to bed but he just said “ I can't Mum, it's my OCD and you know I can't help it.” I went back inside and I remember feeling so helpless and lost as I just didn't know what I could do to make it easier for him.
What was your understanding of mental illness prior to Nick's diagnosis?
Chris: I guess I felt like I had an understanding of what people went through in terms of knowing they couldn't help how they were and how important it was to seek help but looking back I didn't really know how tough it was for them every single day.
Stuart: My brother suffers from mental illness and so I have had exposure to it. I understand how helpless it makes the person feel and how a lot of people don't feel comfortable talking about it.
How did you look after yourself during this period?
Chris: I worked hard and kept busy. I would go for walks. The hardest part for me was carrying around a sadness and not feeling like I could talk about it and I am a ‘talker'. Even my husband and I tried to cope in our own ways and I guess protect each other by not ‘losing it' as that would make it even harder. We read some books on OCD and tried to gain a greater understanding. We were always there for each other but at times it was difficult to talk about Nick.
Stuart: By trying to do the most that I could to help Nick. Getting appointments with the psychiatrist, encouraging him to speak with my brother, cutting him some slack when he seemed stressed.
What would your advice be to any parents who may be concerned about their child's mental welfare?
Chris: To talk to them and just be there. To encourage them to make sure their children seek professional help and hopefully be open to whatever they may need - counselling, medication, support groups etc. to assist them.
Stuart: Don't wait for something to go wrong – it's no different to any other illness – it's just that the injury isn't as visible as other illnesses.
How do you feel about Nick's involvement with headspace?
Chris: headspace has been an amazing part of Nick's recovery and his acceptance of his condition. Nick has never felt ashamed of his OCD but headspace has allowed him to be surrounded by a myriad of people experiencing so many difficulties that it has given him a real perspective on life.