Exam stress rising? No, pupils are just better at seeking help | Laura McInerney

Of course sitting GCSEs can be a trying experience, but with good support, study pressure can be positive

Across the country at the moment, young people are engaging in a practice that will give them nightmares for decades. Nope, not fidget spinners or Snapchat filters: those give only adults nightmares. The real answer is exams.

It’s almost 20 years since my maths GCSE and yet the bad dreams are still the same. No revision done, the exam hall lost in a labyrinth of corridors, the start already missed. I am not alone. Exam anxiety dreams are among the most common in adults. Is it these painful associations, then, that mean a quarter of British parents report their mental health was negatively affected by having children who are currently taking exams? Or is it, as the parents will more often tell you, because watching your child break under the pressure is enough to make anyone sick?

Related: GCSEs and A-levels: how are young people coping with exam stress?

Among boys, the number experiencing any psychological distress has actually gone down

Related: Six tactics to help your students deal with stress

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‘I can’t fight anorexia any more. I’ve tried so hard’

Pip McManus died three years after becoming ill with an eating disorder. Her parents explain how medical care failed their daughter

Marie McManus wants to show me the final photograph taken of her daughter Pip. It was 9 December 2015, and the 15-year-old is standing on the platform of a railway station five minutes’ walk from the family home. In the CCTV image, Pip is wearing a red hoodie and looking up the track to see if her train is coming. But she’s not going to get on it.

Related: Mother of anorexic girl killed by train criticises care failings after inquest

I thought, they’ll put a drip in, they’ll give her fluids. They’ll make her better

Related: Mental health services turn away 23% of under-18s referred to them

Related: Anorexia: you don’t just grow out of it | Carrie Arnold

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A letter to … my husband, who copes with my anxiety disorder

The letter you always wanted to write

You have always known that I struggle with anxiety. At some stages of our life together, I have been paralysed by it, living it, breathing it but seeing little else, including you. My anxiety can stifle our time together. In my worst moments I constantly seek reassurance, I display symptoms of OCD and hyperventilate. I often wonder how you have managed to see the person beyond the anxiety, how you have tolerated me and stayed.

When things are on a more even keel we have wonderful times. I cling on to these in the dark moments, storing them like bright snapshots in my mind. How do you cope? There are times when we laugh, live and love but often we simply exist. We go through the motions, or rather you drag me through them. There have been times when I haven’t been able to work. There have been times when I have constantly harangued you – via text, email, phone – crying, convinced I was dying of yet another life-threatening illness. Again I wonder how you cope, why you stay?

At 12 weeks old our little boy had open-heart surgery. The weeks running up to that are a blur of fear, sadness and joy

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Ruby Wax: ‘The kids didn’t know I had depression until they were older. My husband covered for me’

The comedian talks about her mother’s obsessive compulsive disorder, her own depression and marrying her husband for his family

I was born and raised in Evanston, outside Chicago. My dad, Edward Wachs, and my mum, Bertha, fled Austria in 1938. My family were Jewish but they never practised, so it’s not something I really identify with. My dad ran a catering company so we ate a lot of different kinds of hot dogs. We lived on a lake and if you saw it you’d think, “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful!” It was this American Pie happiness but something wasn’t right.

My mother had obsessive compulsive disorder, although I didn’t know it was called that then. Everything had to be incredibly clean and she went around with sponges in both hands, constantly wiping up. I had girlfriends whose mothers would fill their refrigerators full of food but ours only had mayonnaise and my dad’s cigars. My mother would often get hysterical and there was lots of screaming, but rather than deal with it, my father would just turn the opera up on the radio.

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Postnatal depression – ‘I felt disembodied for so long but suddenly I was back in my own body’

Jessica Friedmann talks to Viv Groskop about the terrifying years she experienced after the birth of her son

Jessica Friedmann thought she was managing well after the birth of her son. Then suddenly her thoughts took a dark turn. “I had to come back into hospital two weeks later for a checkup and I realised that all I wanted to do was get out of the moving car. I was feeling as though I couldn’t handle being alive any more and that it would be better for Owen if I wasn’t.”

Friedmann, 30, has written an extraordinary account of extreme postnatal depression as seen from the eye of the storm. She lives in Canberra, Australia, with her husband, Mike, 34, who is in the Australian air force. Their son, Owen, is four. The period of “feeling foggy”, as she calls it, dates it back to Owen’s early weeks. Friedmann’s experience is at the sharp end of things. While the NHS suggests that the “baby blues” usually don’t last more than two weeks after giving birth, Friedmann was ill for, she estimates, two and a half to three years.

Related: Postnatal depression is not a new phenomenon, only a chronically ignored one

Mental illness is such a bear trap because in any other crisis you can articulate what is going on. But I couldn’t

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‘She was radiant, way out of my league’: a story of love and mental illness

Mark and Giulia fell in love at 18 and mapped out a golden future together. Then one day, he came home to discover Giulia on the floor, obsessing over a key – and everything changed

In 2009, Mark Lukach came home from his teaching job in San Francisco to find his wife, Giulia, sitting on the carpet, their dog sprawled next to her. He could instantly sense that something was wrong. Then Giulia looked up at him and said: “I can’t figure out what I’m going to do with the Vespa key.”

The couple had a Vespa scooter but Mark didn’t understand. “What do you mean? What would you have to do with the Vespa key?”

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Therapy ‘has long-term benefits for mothers with depression’

CBT has positive effects on mental health, financial empowerment and parenting skills, long-term study shows

Cognitive behavioural therapy has significant positive effects on a mother’s mental health, income, employment and parenting skills even seven years after the birth of the child, according to the first study of its kind.

The international research project into the impact of depression on pregnant mothers and their babies, led by Professor Sonia Bhalotra from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, could have major implications for public policy.

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How bad parenting can knock 20 years off your life

Heart disease, depression, life expectancy. New research claims that stress exerts a far heavier physical toll than previously understood. The film-maker James Redford talks about how childhood stress can be a killer

There is a scene in James Redford’s new film, Resilience, in which a paediatrician cites a parental misdeed so outmoded as to seem bizarre. “Parents used to smoke in the car with kids in the back and the windows rolled up,” she says, incredulous. How long ago those days now seem; how wise today’s parents are to the dangers of those toxins. Yet every week in her clinic in the Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco, children present with symptoms of a new pollutant – one that is just as damaging. But unlike the smoke-filled car, this new pollutant is invisible, curling undetected around children’s lives and causing lasting damage to their lungs, their hearts, their immune systems.

“Stress,” Redford says. “It is a neurotoxin like lead or mercury poisoning.” He mentions the city of Flint in Michigan, where residents were exposed to lead in drinking water. “And that’s literally what’s going on” with children who are “coming from really stressful environments. We know what environmental toxins are. Well, this is an environmental toxin.” The proliferation of so-called “toxic stress” among children, Redford says, “is a public health crisis”.

This continual exposure to stress wears the body down, and makes you more prone to cardiovascular disease

Related: Is stress bad for your health?

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Postpartum psychosis: research reveals full recovery possible within weeks

For new mothers who experience this rare and little-understood mental health condition, the consequences can be fatal. But early identification and treatment can have rapid benefits

Sarah West says in the days after the birth of her son in 2012, she felt the emotions many new mothers describe – a mixture of joy combined with anxiety about breastfeeding and whether she was doing everything right.

But around one week after the birth, West’s new-mum anxiety went into overdrive. Despite the exhaustion that comes with being a new parent, she was unable to sleep when her baby slept. Her thoughts raced.

Related: I had postpartum psychosis. More must be done to help mothers like me | Vonny Moyes

Related: Pregnancy and mental health: the hidden pain of giving birth

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My teenage cousin is having a crisis, but her mother won’t get her the help she needs

I had mental health problems as a teen and my cousin’s mother is acting the same way mine did. I fear that history will repeat itself. Annalisa Barbieri advises a reader

My cousin is 16, and apparently going through a crisis. She hates college, skips classes and has spoken to my grandmother often of hating her life and not enjoying anything any more. My grandmother is in bits about this and has tried to talk to my cousin’s mother, her daughter, about getting her some help. However, my aunt’s response has been, “She’s not going to turn out mental like the rest of you people.” (Other members of the family, including me and my grandmother, have had mental health problems.)

My cousin enjoys watching videos and playing video games, but her parents have banned them and see them as an example of her laziness. She is not sleeping either, so her constant exhaustion is taken as yet more evidence of laziness.

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The everyday trauma of childbirth made me stop at one child

Polly Clark believes that, for too many women, the shock of childbirth and its aftermath is akin to experiencing war, leaving them adrift, and absent in a profound way – but no one notices

I once caught a glimpse of my medical records moving from trolley to receptionist’s desk at the GP. Perhaps they have long been computerised, but then they were housed in a large, weary-looking file. They had the heft of a first draft of a novel, a comprehensive and messy catalogue of pains and breaks, results and dead ends and cures. They were nothing unusual for a woman my age. One thing not in there, though, was any reference to or diagnosis of the dominant ill of our time: depression. Nor anxiety, insomnia, or any mental struggle whatsoever. No antidepressant has passed my lips; I have troubled only one counsellor briefly – when my father died.

However, I know for sure that, after the birth of my daughter and for a few years after, I was not in the world as I knew it previously.

Related: It costs £83 to treat postnatal depression. So why must so many women suffer? | Vonny Moyes

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Don’t stick your head in the sand – how to prepare for old age

As we live longer, the numbers of people needing care is also soaring. So what help can those trying to access a creaking, cash-starved system expect?

When I was 16, I spent two months in Italy with my maternal grandparents – then both 88. My grandmother had fallen over some months previously and was bedridden, but my grandfather was still active, physically and mentally; we would regularly play Scopa – an Italian card game – together. His memory rendered him unbeatable.

The family would take it in turns to attend to my grandmother; the more senior adults doing the more serious jobs such as cleaning her, with me doing the softer jobs: combing her hair, giving her a manicure, applying lip salve. When she was very sick, my young cousins and I took it in turns to do the nights. The community nurse, Sabino, visited daily, taking coffee with us in between administering medications. Thirty years later, we are still friends with him. Both grandparents died aged 89, cared for almost exclusively at home (at the very end, my grandfather went to hospital) and by the family.

Related: Paying for care at home: how to negotiate the minefield

Get cancer and your care is paid for. Get dementia and it’s a different story

There are now more than nine million carers in England looking after family members

Related: English social care system for elderly facing ‘complete collapse’

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