Last year, for the first time, we dedicated an entire month to raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing.
This became known as #mymentalhealthmatters month and fell between the key dates of 10 September (World Suicide Prevention Day) and 10 October (World Mental Health Day).
The purpose was to engage staff and students in conversations about their own and others’ mental health, and this year we are doing the same.
Olivia Khan, a Business student on our Ayr Campus, tells the story of a children’s panel she attended just a couple of months after going into foster care.
My mother developed a mental illness and my four siblings and I were taken out of her care for our own safety.
Often, when families experience difficulty and are involved with social work, they have to attend panels to discuss their future.
I looked around the room at all the awkward and nervous faces, unsure where to look. My older sister, my foster dad and three social workers – one I had only met once before for a brief moment; one a stranger to me, albeit a stranger that knew every ugly detail of my family’s life; the third was my social worker, Clare.
I remember when I met her, I thought she was just another social worker trying to split up a family. I hated her and the rest. That was until my first foster parents threw me out, quite literally. I was only given three days’ notice. Dumbfounded is the only word.
Mum had left me, I didn’t know where my brothers or sisters were, and now this. I had no one. That was one of the lowest points of my little life. I felt like that was the first time I really saw Clare. She looked so mad at my carers, she had this concerned look in her eyes that Mum lacked, and most of all she fought for me. She cared and I had her.
I was so grateful for her. She knew more than what was in the files and documents, she knew the family, she went the extra mile, and she was there for us. I’ll never forget the feeling of having someone speak for me when others spoke over me. She was always on my side and had my back when it came to the terminology and jargon. If anyone tried to take advantage of this ‘little girl’ she wouldn’t let it slide.
Anyway, back to the panel, where I was told: “You’ll get contact with your mum three times a week – if she shows up.”
The words echoed through my head as I sat in the undersized, overlit waiting room. Three times a week! That was more than I saw her at home.
My foster Dad sat beside me. He was nervous too, understandably as I was his first foster child and this was his first panel. Poor guy, he wasn’t getting eased in gently that was for sure.
He looked exactly like a dad to me, a big, strong, don’t-mess-with-me sort of guy. The sort of dad that would have come in handy in the past.
I tested him when I first met him. Not a lot of men had positively contributed to my life and my little self wasn’t going to fall for another one. Mum’s boyfriends were the worst, they used to talk to me like I was a child. I despised that. Danny was different and, when I eventually realised that, I had a healthy father-daughter relationship. I guess I have him too.
My big sister squeezed my hand. She looked terrified, I wasn’t sure who was comforting who. I felt like a grown, tired woman trapped in a twelve year old’s body. I always felt like the big sister to her even though she was older by 3 years.
I remember coming home after Primary 5 and seeing her about to retrieve her stuck toast from a toaster with a metal knife. I think I saved her life a few times!
Because she was older she remembered more from the past, I may recall the bright lights of a police car and the nice policewoman taking me to play with the toys while the officer spoke to Mummy, but she remembers it differently. I always felt horrible for that. She’s always there in my memories, distracting my attention, making me laugh, singing really loudly so that I couldn’t hear what was going on around me.
So for that I guess she saved my life a few times too.
My mother’s poor mental health makes me question my own frequently. I worry that when I have children I will not be able to cope and will end up going down a similar, destructive path. I continue to work through these insecurities with the help of my foster and blood-related family.
I knew was going to have to sit in a room with my Mum shortly. I ignored her. I felt a slight pain in my chest after seeing her face again. It made me miss what I had lost. I looked around the room once more. I looked at my strong, protective father figure, my playful, smiling sister and loving Clare. I may have lost a mother but in a way I have gained so much more. What more could I possibly want?