What to do when your child has mental illness

Bettina Jose was the pretty, bubbly 8-year-old who would come to the UAAP games dressed as an Ateneo cheerleader, jumping on the sidelines.

The youngest in a close-knit, very supportive family, she seemed to have it all. She would grow into a teenager who sometimes got bullied, and into a young adult who would find herself in a bad relationship.

In 2014, when she was 20, Bettina’s severe panic attacks began.

“Immediately, my parents reached out to a family friend, a mental health advocate, to ask for a referral to a psychiatrist, because they could see I was no longer myself and I was hiding many things from them,” she recalls.

“I was having severe panic attacks and I was hiding my bruises, but it took me a while to see the psychiatrist because I would tell my parents I was managing it, anyway.”

It took Bettina a year and a half and much convincing by her parents to seek help.

“It was really their unconditional love and persistence that pulled me out of the depths,” she says.

Accepting

Accepting that your child is suffering a mental health condition is something that countless parents struggle with. In Bettina’s case, her parents, Raffy and Marichi Jose, were with her from day one, proactively involved in helping her get the right treatment.

On the surface Bettina was active, brave, and outgoing, but deep inside she was grappling with fear, sadness, anxiety, and nightmares. “Coming to terms with what was happening to me was a huge struggle in itself,” she admits.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of some traumatic experiences.

A month after being on medication, she began to feel changes: “I told my mom I didn’t realize how different my mind was working until I started taking the medication and feeling the difference. I stabilized, and it put me back on the right path.”

In December 2017, Bettina was finally in a good place, and the desire to pay it forward was kindled.

“There was a lot of talk about mental health, we were losing friends to suicide, and there were comments from celebrities that were insensitive,” she recalls. “In February, I reached out to my friends Dana and Hazel, who have their own experiences with mental health conditions. We met, and I told them what I wanted to do. When they heard it, they both teared up because they had been thinking of the same thing!

“What we want to do with Spring is recreate the same community and support system that we had, bring it to a bigger scale and make it available to more people.”

Safe space

On July 7, Spring was launched in an event at Hole in the Wall in Century City Makati, where some one hundred young people gathered to share a night of music and stories.

Spring’s message is simple: You are not alone.

Among the activities lined up are monthly community meet-ups that can provide a safe space for young people to be together and talk about what they’re going through.

In the pipeline are summits with partner high schools for mental health education and activities for young people.

Bettina, who founded Spring, emphasizes the importance of community and a strong support system within and outside the family.

“Medication and talk therapy are very good, but it’s so important for parents to accept what their child is going through, and to support their child” she says. “I’m grateful that I have that kind of support system. I don’t know how I would have made it without the care and love of my parents, especially my mom, who never left my side and watched me like a hawk during my most difficult days.

“I recognize that not everyone has that, so through Spring we would like to be able to give it to them.”

Spring’s desire is for every member of its community to find its reasons for choosing life.

“It’s a question I ask myself whenever I feel stressed. ‘Why are you here? Why do you choose to be here?’ And when the answers come—family, my friends, my work, Spring— then everything else is noise, and I just choose to focus on my why.”

Bettina says that struggling with mental health condition is a cycle: “You need to remember that spring always comes after winter, and that bad days don’t last forever. That’s what helped me—knowing that it’s not going to last. It’s hard now, but I’m just going to keep pushing forward because I know there’s something better.”

For the person who unknowingly caused the PTSD that contributed to her panic attacks many years ago, she only has forgiveness. “I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I do today through Spring, if it weren’t for that person,” Bettina says. “I believe that God put that person in my life, because this is one of the things I am meant to do.”

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