This blog was written by a PAPYRUS volunteer; names and locations have been removed to preserve the identity of the author.
This time last year my younger sister gave birth to her first child. It was of course a cause for great celebration but also some trepidation. My sister is bipolar and over the years has suffered a number of crises. Along with her husband I sit at the centre of her support network – we have a crisis plan and it is something we have to be ready for. But nothing actually prepares you for the experience of a loved one suffering a mental health crisis.
So, as we welcomed the new, healthy baby girl I don’t mind admitting I was concerned about how the early weeks and months would go. And, unfortunately, it didn’t take long before she started to struggle. There were problems with feeding which knocked her confidence and both sets of new grandparents, myself and others were increasingly having to take the strain.
None of us live locally to their home and with the prospect of her husband returning to work we were facing a tough situation. In consultation with her mental health team it was decided she would be admitted, voluntarily, to a mother and baby unit; purposely designed to provide in-patient care to new mothers suffering mental health problems.
Knowing the pressures on the system we weren’t surprised to discover that the only bed available was over 100 miles from home. So, just at the time the new parents should have been bonding with their first child they found themselves separated, not knowing how long her recovery would take.
In the end, my sister was in hospital for six weeks –slowly but surely her confidence increased and she was able to take more responsibility for her daughter, learning how to adapt her own coping mechanisms with the demands of a baby.
The care she received was excellent. Of course, medication changes help but it’s the dedication, patience and expert knowledge that the NHS professionals have that is invaluable. The transformation in my sister’s ability to cope was thanks to them.
Recently I gathered with the family to celebrate my niece’s first birthday. I am pleased to report she is thriving: walking, into everything and an absolute joy. Mum is also doing amazingly. With the dark days behind her she goes back to work soon and now has the family she always yearned for. There have been further bumps in the road but which new parents don’t have the odd up and down?
And what have I learnt from the past year? Well, firstly that a mental health crisis can affect many more people than just the person suffering from it. But because my sister is prepared to discuss her illness with us, even when it is painful to do so, we know how to help. Also, that our NHS mental health services are stretched to the point that it can be difficult to access the care required but in the end what they do is astonishing.
Overall, it has been the strength and resilience of family bonds tested by stressful circumstances combined with professional help that has got us through. I’m glad I was able to play my small part and mostly I’m proud to be an uncle!