Gillian’s story all too familiar, says Facebook ambassador
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.”