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I couldn't eat, I wasn't sleeping at night... I was just unable to function like a proper human being

Published 25/08/2015

Dympna Colgan with her son Ryan
Dympna Colgan with her son Ryan

As one in five parents here say they feel lonely, Claire McNeilly talks to Dympna Colgan who suffered from severe depression after the birth of her fifth child.

One in five Northern Ireland parents feel lonely and isolated, new research has found.

They also regularly feel cut off from friends and other sources of support, according to Action for Children.

The charity's survey, published today, has unearthed a disturbing scale of loneliness that for many in Northern Ireland has become worse since becoming a parent.

Newtownbutler mother-of-five Dympna Colgan, who suffered severe depression following the birth of her fifth child, told the Belfast Telegraph that she almost fell apart because she had no one to turn to.

"I found it a horrendous struggle to cope with my newborn son Ryan," she said.

"I couldn't eat, I wasn't sleeping at night. I couldn't function like a proper human being.

"Things weren't good at home and my second eldest daughter, who was 14 at the time, took over the running of the house because I just couldn't cope any more."

She added: "We live in a very isolated place. I had five children to look after.

"I felt incredibly isolated and alone because I didn't have many friends and my life revolved around my children and my home."

When Ryan was later diagnosed with ADHD, the attention deficit syndrome, and dyslexia in primary school, the 50-year-old grandmother-of-two said her marriage to George (50), who is unemployed, went through an extremely rough patch.

"The whole pressure of not understanding the situation really sent us into a downward spiral," she admitted.

It was only when she turned to Action for Children Northern Ireland's Fermanagh Family Support Hub 18 months ago that Mrs Colgan - who looks after her granddaughters Amelia (16) and six-year-old Hannah - was able to her turn her life around.

"I felt really cut off from any help - that's when the team at Action for Children's Fermanagh Support Hub stepped in and put in place a really effective support network for the whole family - not just me," she said.

"It saved my marriage and receiving the help from their specialist services means we've managed to completely turn things around."

She said her children - Denise (now 26), 24-year-old Fiona, Mark (21), who is autistic, 17-year-old Conor and Ryan (10) - also got vital help.

Dawn Shaw, operational services director at Action for Children Northern Ireland, said it was "troubling" that one in five parents (22%) feels lonely and isolated. "Having a network that you can call on is vital, to help celebrate your child's achievements and share those funny moments or the tougher times, which all parents face," she said.

"Becoming a parent doesn't come with a handbook; you're always learning and as your children grow their needs, and the skills you need to call on as a parent, change."

She urged parents to seek out services in their area which could help them overcome negative feelings.

"Local services like our Action for Children Sure Start centres around Northern Ireland, the Clooney family centre in Derry and our Enniskillen family support can offer a real lifeline to parents who feel isolated - somewhere to meet and make friends," she said.

"Staff there won't judge if you drop in looking for support and you can take part in activities like play sessions or parenting classes."

Among the report's findings, the importance of having a support network was also highlighted by parents, with half (50%) saying it is particularly important to have friends who are also parents.

It also emerged that 34% of parents in Northern Ireland struggle to make their money last throughout the month.

And 52% don't believe that support services for expectant and new parents offer enough support - specifically for fathers.

Belfast Telegraph

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