“I could go on about my struggles as a child…but I am the person that I am today because of those different struggles and I think my mom was just trying to be a mom and it was hard for her…living with mental illness”
Children of parents with a mental illness (COPMI)
These kids have been described as Canada’s “youngest front line mental
health care workers” as many of them are under the age of 12
A Canadian documentary film called “I Am Still Your Child” has brought unprecedented attention to the children who grow up with a parent who struggles with mental illness. These kids have been described as Canada’s “youngest front line mental health care workers” as many of them are under the age of 12.
Referred to as “children of parents with a mental illness,” they are at a greater risk of experiencing a range of behavioural, education, social and developmental challenges, as well as a higher risk of experiencing their own mental health difficulties, according to the Australian national initiative Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI). But this doesn’t mean that all of these children will experience difficulties as a result of their parent’s health status. Outcomes vary based on a myriad of factors related to the parent, the individual, the family and the community.
Natasha Box tells her story
“Now I understand that she most likely was suffering. Now I know that she had bipolar disorder.”
Natasha Box is a registered nurse working at Nanaimo Regional Hospital and at Vancouver Island Mental Health Society. Her mother struggled with mental health while Natasha was growing up. “My mom went, basically, my entire [childhood] life without being diagnosed as bipolar,” she says. The diagnosis came much later, after Natasha had moved to B.C. to study nursing and her mother followed.
“Mom was always in and out of work,” Natasha recalls, “didn’t pay bills. We went without hydro several times. Moved a lot.” While spending time with her “amazing friendship group,” in homes that were different from hers (cleaner houses, meals being prepared), Natasha observed differences between her mother and the other mothers she’d met. “Now I understand that she most likely was suffering. Now I know that she had bipolar disorder.”
Many children and families demonstrate resilience and cope well when a parent has a mental illness, despite the many challenges, according to COPMI. Promoting resilience involves identifying and building strengths and opportunities across three levels: the individual, the family and in the community.
Development of resilience
Many children and families demonstrate resilience and cope well when a parent
has a mental illness, despite the many challenges, according to COPMI
Natasha is one of the kids that developed resilience in the face of her mother’s struggles. “The community of people around you, while you are growing up, is very important. The things that you get in your life you don’t always get from your immediate family members. All the neighbours kind of cared for us kids, too.” Natasha’s grandmother also played a key role in helping to raise her as mom struggled.
“All the different people that came into my life helped me to be the resilient human being that I am,” she says. Her experiences growing up also made Natasha into a “really good problem solver.”
I could go on about my struggles as a child but I am the person that I am today because of those different struggles and I think my mom was just trying to be a mom and it was hard for her living with mental illness. She was a very loving mother. I never ever doubted that she loved me. —Natasha Box
“I just felt so natural working with people with mental health issues,” she says. “I love learning about people’s stories and thinking about things that have happened in people’s lives that have brought them to the point where they are—and the different supports that are available. I believe in people’s resiliency.”
We speak with Natasha Box.
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Image top: Natasha Box. Other images are stock photos.
— VIMentalHealth (@VIMentalHealth) October 4, 2017