Gil­lian’s story all too fa­mil­iar, says Face­book am­bas­sador

Solihull News - - FAMILY LIFE -

GIL­LIAN’S story is sadly all too fa­mil­iar, says a Soli­hull mum who set up a help group for par­ents whose chil­dren are suf­fer­ing men­tal ill­ness, and who has be­come one of Face­book’s global com­mu­nity am­bas­sadors.

Suzanne Martin wanted to break through the ta­boos sur­round­ing men­tal health af­ter her own child be­came sui­cida through de­pres­sion.

Find­ing her­self iso­lated and lack­ing the skills to cope, she started the Par­ent­ing Men­tal Health sup­port group on Face­book in Septem­ber 2016 with the aim of em­pow­er­ing other par­ents fac­ing a sim­i­lar jour­ney.

“As a par­ent, you don’t ex­pect some­thing like this to hap­pen to you, you’re not trained for it and you re­ally don’t want it,” says mum-of-two Suzanne. “We were com­pletely thrown. I remember sit­ting there in the mid­dle of the night and think­ing, ‘We can’t be the only par­ents go­ing through this?’

“But no one talks about men­tal ill­ness. I it had been a se­ri­ous phys­i­cal ill­ness, God for­bid, peo­ple would have felt they could en­gage with us, but they didn’t know what to do when it came to this.

“I de­cided that if we ever man­aged to get through it, I would set up a help group where peo­ple could talk about it.”

To­day, Par­ent­ing Men­tal Health has more than 3,200 mem­bers who share ex­pe­ri­ences and ben­e­fit from ex­pert we­bi­nars and Q&As.

The aim of the group is to be a sup­port­ive com­mu­nity pro­vid­ing knowl­edge, un­der­stand­ing, friend­ship,

ad­vice and hope to par­ents who feel lost at any stage of their jour­ney.

It’s also about giv­ing them the skills to cope with the chal­lenges of their child’s men­tal ill­ness and the im­pact this has on the whole fam­ily.

“Peer sup­port is re­ally im­por­tant as well as hav­ing tools at your own dis­posal too,” says Suzanne, who runs a mar­ket­ing firm. “We’ve had lots of peo­ple come to us and share their sto­ries. I get mes­sages from all over the world, some­times des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple re­ally don’t know how to deal with what’s go­ing on.

“There’s no rule book on this, and that’s the dif­fi­culty. I’m in the process of writ­ing one so I can share my ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge. For most par­ent­ing is­sues, be it potty train­ing, sleep is­sues, school prob­lems, there’s al­ways other par­ents you can speak to who have had ex­pe­ri­ence of this. But with men­tal health, no one does, so it’s im­por­tant for there to be some­where peo­ple can go to talk about it and not feel judged.

“I be­lieve you have to part­ner your child, not par­ent them, through men­tal ill­ness. It iso­lates your child if you try to par­ent them at a time when they’re al­ready feel­ing very iso­lated from the world.”

Suzanne has been named as a fel­low of the 2018 global Face­book Com­mu­nity Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme – one of just 115 fel­lows cho­sen from over 6,000 en­tries from 46 coun­tries around the world.

The pro­gramme works to em­power as­pir­ing com­mu­nity lead­ers through train­ing, fund­ing and sup­port to help boost their ideas and reach more peo­ple.

Suzanne hopes to de­velop her com­mu­nity into an on­line sup­port plat­form which will pro­vide par­ents with chil­dren suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness with daily sup­port, in­for­ma­tion, ex­pert ad­vice, train­ing pro­grammes and guides.

“Face­book has been an amaz­ing plat­form for my group and when I saw they were look­ing to sup­port com­mu­nity lead­ers I thought it might be a way of us reach­ing more peo­ple,” she says. “Over the next year, I will re­ceive sup­port, train­ing and men­tor­ing from Face­book to grow my com­mu­nity.

“I talk to a lot of peo­ple who think that once their child is at high school, or a teenager or on so­cial me­dia, they no longer have the con­trol they used to have. But you have a mas­sive part to play in your child’s men­tal health.

“And there are lots of ways of build­ing their strength and be­ing a pos­i­tive role model for them.”

Face­book is of­fer­ing up to $ 50,000 to each am­bas­sador to help them fund their planned projects, and Suzanne hopes the in­vest­ment from Face­book will help her to reach even more fam­i­lies at their crit­i­cal time of need.

Ear­lier this month, Suzanne was in­vited to Face­book’s head­quar­ters in San Fran­cisco where she met the team be­hind the project and fel­low am­bas­sadors.

“It was phe­nom­e­nal,” she says. “I came back feel­ing re­ally in­spired and en­er­gised with a re­newed sense of pur­pose that I can do this.”

Suzanne Martin

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