THE DAY MUM WENT MISSING
The day Mum went missing began much like any other day: wrangling my eldest daughter out of her PJs into something resembling an outfit that would last the day at kindy, as well as attempting to get a brush through her hair so she didn’t look like some orphaned waif.
At the same time I was ratting through the dress-up box trying to find my youngest daughter’s current favourite polyester Disney dress-up. None of the costumes seem to be right because despite the sticky, humid Sydney day, the princess gown had to have “long sleeves”.
So after finding the right dress, ignoring the nest of knots at the back of Miss Four’s head and herding them both out the door, I could almost smell the coffee I was going to fortify myself with, before my daughter and I visited Mum in hospital.
I reminded myself to order two – the thought of good caffeine fix might be enough to elicit a whisper of a smile from my mother. She had been going down, down, down with her latest bipolar episode.
A spell in a psychiatric hospital was hopefully a way to fine tune her meds and rescue her before she slipped into that scary, black cave of nothingness.
My story is not unique. Many, many Australians are caring for a loved one with a mental illness. It’s a situation that you can find isolating, confusing and frustrating.
That is why the findings of the world’s first national report card on mental health and suicide prevention by the National Mental Health Commission are so significant. In the detailed report there are some shocking figures.
According to Professor Allan Fels, Chair of the NMHC, “people with a severe mental illness will have their life expectancy reduced by 25 years on average due to the increased likelihood of heart related conditions, diabetes and obesity.”
The Commission also found worrying evidence of the high use of seclusion and restraint in mental health facilities. At the moment not all jurisdictions are obliged to publicly report their use of seclusion.
But what makes this report different is that people – not statistics and bar graphs – are at its heart.The NMHC report is rich with stories of those with a mental illness, their families and supporters.
Too often such stories are overlooked. Shame, stigma and exhaustion can all contribute to such experiences remaining hidden.
It also means that you can often feel like you’re the only one, the only family going through it. And I’ve been there. My family and I go into
paramedic mode when mum gets sick. But despite our years of ‘experience’ our ability to handle different situations can be hit and miss.
So I found myself feeling desperately unequipped and vulnerable that morning, clutching a tray of coffee in one hand, and holding my daughter’s hand with the other as we both headed towards her hospital room.
I had found that a coffee and cuddle from both of us helped Mum. Or perhaps it just helped me to feel like I was grounding her in reality. The reality of the love she had around her: two generations of girls who would not give up on her.
But that particular morning I feared that mum had given up on us… She was not in her room.
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