It's time to talk about Mental Health and Foster Care


Thursday, 7 February 2019, is Time to Talk Day.

This is a day that helps us find a way to start a much-needed dialogue with our family and friends about mental health. It’s a much-needed dialogue because the reality is that one person in four is affected by mental health problems.

There is another reality, and it is a harsh reality.  People are afraid to talk about mental health, whether it is their own need for help or a family member’s or a friend’s. While we don’t seem to mind talking about our physical health, sometimes in great detail, we shrink from talking about any issues we have with mental health because of the general and persisting sense of stigma and shame.

The only way to remove the stigma that stands in the way of mental health conversations is to start talking about it. The value of Time to Talk Day is that we have it as a reason to begin conversations. It does not have to be a big long and emotional conversation. As Time to Change, which is behind Time to Talk Day, says, “2 teas, 3 biscuits, 0 pressure.”

That’s all it takes – a simple sit down with a cuppa. Talking about mental health allows a fresh breeze to waft through a history of stereotypes with all the old, restricting and hurtful stigmas. When we can talk to each other about things we may have considered as negative or shameful parts of who we are, we are on the road to improved relationships, and we develop the ability to aid recovery.

Talking is how we can take the first step in the journey away from shame and stigma, both for the one in four who have mental illness and for all of us who accept the stigma because we either don’t think about mental illness or we passively accept old attitudes. As with so many things in our lives, it is all about awareness. Awareness of solutions. Awareness that others care.

Don’t limit yourself by thinking you need to be an expert to talk to someone about mental health. Being able to listen is an excellent act of friendship and caring. Most people with mental health problems feel that they are misunderstood by their family and shunned by their friends, work colleagues, and health professionals. Some even report being called names by neighbours. If you take the first step and open up a dialogue with your family, friends, and colleagues, you help them overcome these isolating thoughts.

Aiding Recovery

Any solution must begin with accepting the existence of the problem to be solved. When you talk about mental illness and how it affects you and your life, or when you encourage a friend or family member to talk with you about how it affects them and their life, you open the door to finding recovery.

On 7 February, take the time to bring together the right ingredients. If you are one of the people who are still afraid to talk about it, sit down with a friend and start the conversation. It does happen that a person says, “I have social anxiety and I fear leaving my home,” and the listener realises that he or she has the exact same feelings. Suddenly these two people can share their fears and feelings and out of that conversation, a potential solution emerges.

A guy tells his friend about his overwhelming depression and the wall between them breaks down and they talk about how this affects the guy’s life. They become better friends and it opens up a new world to both. If you are afraid to mention the way you feel and the fears you have, you are locking yourself in a narrow world. If you are a person who views those with mental illness as “having something wrong with them” and just dismissing them, talking with them helps both of you have a better life.

Having a mental health issue is enough of an issue in their lives. Feeling ashamed and isolated only makes it worse. When a mentally ill person is encouraged to talk about how they feel, they are closer to finding treatment and achieving recovery. As an isolated person, they end up excluded from day-to-day activities. Not only do they feel isolated from the friends they have and their family, they are also challenged in building new relationships.

The discrimination is real, and it takes many forms. Here are just some of them:

  • Friends and family withdraw from contact because they don’t want to deal with a mentally ill person
  • They are unable to find work, or lose their job, or get demoted because of the stigma of mental health problems
  • Their illness is not taken seriously and people who should reach out and help them instead offer unfeeling advice to just get over it
  • Name calling
  • Being treated as a lesser being because people assume they are less capable
  • Discrimination can be actively harsh resulting in hate crimes

Jokes about “crazy people” can cut to the core of a person’s being. They hear this and they hear their friends laugh at the jokes and all it does is increase their isolation and shame and exacerbate existing problems.

Multi-disciplinary Assessment Treatment & Therapy Service

Violence, poverty, humiliation and feeling devalued contribute to mental health problems. The World Health Organisation noted that depression is “the third leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents (15–19 years).”

Because Capstone is a fostering agency, we focus on better outcomes for young people and we strive to provide the best possible services to the children in our care so that they can achieve these better outcomes. Finding solutions includes finding ways to combat the risk of mental health problems. To this end, we look for ways to build life skills in the children in our care.

One way is through psychosocial support. Finding ways to promote good mental health can change the future for these young people. Our Multi-disciplinary Assessment Treatment & Therapy Service (MATTs) is such a programme. MATTs works with foster parents and provides enhanced support and resources for both the foster carers and the children in care who are referred to the programme. 

MATTs is a way for a child who needs help in resolving mental health problems to access the help by being placed in a home that is supported by a clinical therapeutic team. The fostering parents are trained in therapeutic parenting and have enhanced skills. Our foster children are able to receive direct therapeutic input.

Capstone’s therapeutic foster care programme provides direct therapeutic input, which is what makes MATTs so successful. Outside of foster care, when a child goes through local child care services, the waiting lists for the service are very long. All too often, direct therapeutic input is inaccessible.

A foster home is not just a home, it’s a safe and comfortable sanctuary for children and young people. When foster parents have the MATTs training and support, they are in a double role. They have the role of providing a secure family setting where the child can live and thrive. They also provide a therapeutic environment to help the children in care move toward recovery and know that they are no longer isolated. When caring for children and young people with complex needs and challenging behaviour, Capstone’s therapeutic service is there to fill this essential need. It helps foster children grow into a much happier life than they would, without treatment.

As part of the fostering arrangement, a child is assessed, and the foster carer gets to know about the child’s circumstances, responses, and emotional state. The knowledge they gain about the child helps the therapeutic team in choosing the best approach to aid the child’s psychological and emotional recovery.

In fostering, it can be difficult to find programmes that create stronger ties between adolescents and their families. Fostering removes young people from homes that are unable to provide the care and protection a child needs and deserves. MATTs is our solution. It connects young people to a family-type environment where they are able to develop and find hope.

When the local authority takes a child into care, the child’s family history and developmental progress is assessed. If specialised efforts are needed, the child is referred to the MATTs programme and placed in therapeutic foster care, which has been identified as a way to change the future of young people who may struggle to successfully integrate into society.

Therapeutic foster parents do what all foster carers do, which is provide an environment where children and young people can feel protected and valued. The special aspect of therapeutic care is that the youngsters also receive the day to day therapeutic treatment they need.

Foster parents are available to talk to the child whenever the child needs someone to listen and understand and carry on a non-judgemental conversation. The adult and the child can talk easily, with the adult able to see beyond the child’s behaviour to the reasons and motivations behind the child’s actions. These foster parents know how to talk about mental health issues.

What you can do

As mentioned earlier, you don’t have to be an expert to start talking about mental health. You probably don’t have access to a therapeutic team to help with mental health problems. You may not even know what services are available. Time to Talk is not about knowing all the answers. It is about shining some light on mental health problems and letting people know that it is acceptable to talk about the problems they have.

You don’t have to sit down with friends and start talking about problems one-on-one. You can get involved in hosting a coffee morning at work to talk about the importance of finding ways to remove the stigma about mental health problems. You can talk with a group of your colleagues about how isolating mental health issues can be. You can take every opportunity to talk about stigmatising comments and hurtful words that are based in fallacies.

The more you can spread the word that mental health problems are part of life, the wider the reach of acceptance and support for the 25% of the population with mental health issues will be. Be proactive in talking about your own problems and how you feel about the stigma that still exists. When a young mother posted on Facebook about her postpartum depression, other women, some of them now grandmothers, spoke up. They had the same lost and lonely feelings when they too were young mothers and they now felt immense relief in being able to go public about the old shameful emotions they suffered.

It’s all about communication

When we accept that our differences and our similarities are part of the human condition, we can embrace the goodness that exists in us. There is no need to judge ourselves as lacking if we have a mental health issue. There is no need for us to feel that we are alone in our disorder. If you are a person who is among the 25% impacted by mental health concerns, it may be difficult to speak up and tell your story.  However, the times are changing and organisations such as Time to Change are there to work on the necessary process of ending the stigma and discrimination that mental health problems cause.

When more people with mental health problems can find ways to challenge the ongoing stigma and discrimination in their world, the resulting transformation of their communities, workplaces, and schools could be dramatic. When you initiate conversation about mental health, it might surprise you how many of your friends and colleagues face similar issues. There is strength in numbers.

Use Time to Talk Day to begin a conversation about mental health. It’s a perfect springboard to a changing world.

Thinking of fostering?

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