Q&A: A headspace parent on understanding

For me it was about things that you would see with a teenager, but they were heightened

When was it that you first noticed something was wrong with Zak?

Around the age of about 15-16 with Zak, it was just what was happening at school and high school, I know that he'd had some difficulty in primary school, but he'd sort of settled. I'd moved him to another school, and he started having issues with other students at that time, and he was withdrawing within himself. It really culminated when he was about 17, in his final year of school, and that's when I was really concerned.

Were you able to differentiate that from normal teenage experience?

For me it was about things that you would see with a teenager, but they were heightened. I knew that his father's family had a history of depression as well, and his aunty, and his grandfather, so I was alert to that anyway.

When he expressed suicidal thoughts I was really concerned, I didn't know what to do for quite a while - I asked him if he would like to see a doctor or a counsellor - he actually went to the counsellor at school, and I got very little feedback, so I found that very difficult that the counsellor kept saying "He's alright, he's alright, he's doing well." He withdrew from a lot of his schoolwork, he wasn't completing his schoolwork, he wasn't working socially with people.

From a parent's point of view, how do you talk about concerns like this with your kids?

I tried many different ways, whether it was doing an activity with him or whether it was talking about it directly. It was about only just getting little bits at a time, and trying to piece together a puzzle, a picture of what was happening for him, and trying to ensure that I knew that he was safe. There were times when I was really, really very concerned about his welfare and his health - a few times I really thought that I might lose him. He refused care, he refused assistance, but I just kept plugging away very slowly, and trying to provide as much support as possible.

Did you have to get a bit creative about how you approached this problem?

I did, I did... It was about what activities engaged him. We'd do a little bit of cooking, we'd talk about books and read, a bit of gaming - not too much - a bit of TV, things around the house more than anything.

In what ways were you able to support Zak through that time?

Well, I would be there for him, like if I was at work at any time, he could contact me, I would leave, I would go - if he was anxious he could ring me at any time. Work were okay with that, they had no issues with that at all.

What about support for you? How did you stay together?

You don't fall apart, you can't. You just hang tough basically, that's what you do. I found it extremely difficult, I found it very stressful, I spoke about it with some friends and they were supportive. It's something that you as a parent have to work through within yourself to be able to get that emotional resilience so you can actually help your child get through it as well.

How did you end up connecting Zak with headspace?

It was by sheer chance - I think headspace had just started and I saw an email about the headspace youth reference group and forwarded it to Zak and said "Look, this is something maybe you could do to help other people who may have gone through a hard time". This was a way that he could sort of add something to the community. He took that opportunity and I think it's done him a world of good.

What did it mean to you when you saw Zak beginning to 'turn the corner'?

It was just a relief - just to know that he was resolving the angst or the fear that he had. There was joy again, there wasn't this black cloud around all the time, there was this joy, there was a spark of life, there was... it just lightened my heart and lightened me.