Susie Fowler-Watt:

It’s tough for young peo­ple these days, says Susie, and Char­lotte’s story shows just how hard it can be

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - ABOVE: Char­lotte susie.fowler-watt@bbc.co.uk

Susie has a mov­ing tale for our times

There are many as­pects of parenting that are dif­fer­ent to­day from when my par­ents brought me up. First there is the tech­nol­ogy – the con­stant strug­gle to get chil­dren off their gad­gets and into the real world, fresh air and all.

Then there is the fact that our so­ci­ety has be­come far more child-cen­tric; we run around like crazy try­ing to fill their days with stim­u­lat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties rather than just let­ting them get on with it and amuse them­selves. When my five-year-old com­plains of be­ing ‘bored’ – nor­mally two sec­onds after we have made him turn off a screen of some sort – I say: “Good! That means you can let your imag­i­na­tion run riot!”

But the hard­est as­pect of all, I think, is the huge in­crease in men­tal health is­sues. The jour­ney to adult­hood seems far more fraught with dan­ger in this re­spect than it ever used to be.

It may be that the as­pects of mod­ern life men­tioned above play their part; it may also be that we’re now much more aware of the sub­ject, so the stress and worry I felt while do­ing ex­ams (I had to be taken to the school in­fir­mary the day be­fore my A lev­els) might nowa­days be called anx­i­ety. Back in those days I had just got my­self “in a bit of a state”.

But there is no doubt that many, many more chil­dren are suf­fer­ing from se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues – anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive dis­or­der and eat­ing dis­or­ders – than ever be­fore. Some­times these con­di­tions are so se­vere that they im­pact on their ed­u­ca­tion and can even be life-threat­en­ing. They are not just “in a bit of a state”.

Let me tell you about Char­lotte. A bright, fun-lov­ing girl from Nor­folk, with a close fam­ily, Char­lotte started to show symp­toms of ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive dis­or­der (OCD) at the age of 11. At first it was repet­i­tive be­hav­iour – count­ing, car­ry­ing out the same rit­u­als – in or­der to pre­vent some­thing ‘bad’ hap­pen­ing to her loved ones. But within months it had es­ca­lated into a very se­ri­ous con­di­tion.

By spring last year Char­lotte was so afraid of con­tam­i­na­tion that she had vir­tu­ally stopped eat­ing. She wouldn’t go to the lava­tory in­side a build­ing – she had to go in the gar­den. She couldn’t go up­stairs and would sleep on the kitchen floor. She could spend hours wash­ing her hands. She self-harmed and had sui­ci­dal thoughts.

Imagine the suf­fer­ing of that poor girl and the agony of her fam­ily. Her mother Marie told me “If any­one had asked me what hell is like, I would have said this is it.”

Even­tu­ally, after fac­ing a real strug­gle to get the ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment, Char­lotte was ad­mit­ted to a spe­cial­ist hos­pi­tal in London, where she was treated as an in-pa­tient for seven months. It was gru­elling, dis­tress­ing and im­mensely dif­fi­cult for the fam­ily. But she is get­ting bet­ter.

What Char­lotte now knows is that she is not alone; so many young peo­ple are go­ing through what she has en­dured. As a re­sult, she is set­ting up a char­ity with her friend Maria to help oth­ers – men­tal­help.org.uk. It launches this month, with a film made by the girls, at an event sup­ported by OCD Ac­tion and Young Minds.

One of the main aims of the char­ity is to grant wishes to chil­dren who have men­tal health is­sues – to give them hope and some­thing to look for­ward to. The Make a Wish Foun­da­tion does this for phys­i­cally ill chil­dren, but there is noth­ing for those who are men­tally ill.

Most im­por­tantly, Char­lotte is telling her story. What strength and courage that takes.

What I re­ally want to do is wrap my arms around Char­lotte and Marie and make it all bet­ter. Un­for­tu­nately I can’t do that. What I can do is share their story, be­cause it’s a tale of our time. We col­lec­tively need to wrap our arms around every Char­lotte and Marie go­ing through such hor­rors, and to­gether we might make the world a bet­ter place for all our chil­dren.

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