Social illness

Trauma, childhood and mental illness


CONTENT WARNING: this episode of Open Mind includes stories about trauma and suicide. Listener discretion is advised.

Some say life throws challenges for which you are ready. If this is the case, Flo Sharman was born ready.

Flo’s journey began with life-saving surgery aged just 4 months, after which childhood appeared rosy. But one day, aged 8 years old, everything changed.

“I remember like it was yesterday. I went to bed and in middle of the night I woke up paralysed, blind, hallucinating. I was terrified.”

Rushed to hospital, doctors suspected Flo had bleeding on her brain. But all tests came back normal. Eventually, Flo was diagnosed with PTSD, OCD, depression and panic attacks.

MQ are funding studies into all 4 of Flo’s conditions including OCD and Depression in early adolescence.

“It was like this big black hole had opened and it was just getting deeper and deeper… It happened so quickly. I went from being this happy go lucky child to being terrified of everything, not wanting to leave my home, not wanting to live, thinking everyone was better off without me.”

Flo is not alone in experiencing suicidal thoughts at such a young age. Nearly one in ten young people think about self-harm or suicide yet our understanding of the risk factors is limited. This is why MQ is funding research like this data science study into self-harm and suicide.

Initially, the progress Flo made in treatment was limited due to an unproductive therapeutic relationship with her child psychiatrist.

“They put you in this box and they think ‘these people have the same labels and this medication worked for them and this therapy worked for them so it’s going to work for Flo!’ And that’s not the case at all.”

Tailored treatment responses to mental illness is an area of MQ’s research which is why we are funding studies like this one.

The tailored approach for Flo included a child psychologist with whom she had a stronger bond, later a hypnotherapist, then yoga, running, hiking. As Flo puts it

“Sport will save me time and time again.”

Flo observes the misconception around young people and mental ill health.

“Many people are surprised to hear how someone could have a mental breakdown at such a young age and it be so much of a crisis.”

This is why MQ are funding many studies into mental health in children and adolescents including a series of projects called Brighter Futures. For Flo, time is also a great healer.

“I gave myself time to understand myself… I wasn’t a freak, I wasn’t strange, I shouldn’t be ashamed to have mental health {conditions}. Those labels given at such a young age don’t define me. They’re a small part of what makes me who I am today.”

With your help, MQ can make the tomorrows to come brighter for young people like Flo.

Listen to the podcast episode here.

You can donate to MQ now here.

We are very grateful to Flo for being an MQ ambassador and speaking so openly to us on the podcast.

You can speak to the Samaritans any time by calling 116-123.

You can download the Hub of Hope app to access mental health support in your area any time.

You can find Flo on Instagram at @FloSharman – please be sensitive to her story and respectful with your interactions.

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