Jan Stewart never thought she would live with fear in her own house. Hold on Tight: A Parent's Journey Raising Children with Mental Illness describes her raw and emotional journey raising two children with multiple mental health disorders. Jan details the roller coaster lives and challenges that both children have faced in detail, from the time they were born to the present as young adults in their 30s. Pulling no punches, Jan describes moments of terrifying fear, pain, and hopelessness, as well as of awe, pride, and hope. The roller coaster ride never stops.
While brutally honest, Hold on Tight is a love song to Jan's children. The book educates and empowers parents so that both they and their children can lead more fulfilling lives. Healthcare professionals, as well as families, friends, educators, employers, and others who interact with these families, get an inside look into the lives and unique perspectives of these parents. Compelling parental advice includes:
* Trust your gut.
* Persevere in identifying the right professionals, diagnoses, and treatments.
* Insist on an integrated partnership approach with all those involved in each child's care.
Amongst other insights, Jan counsels parents to reset the expectations of their own lives, as well as those of family and friends, to talk openly with each child, and to take care of themselves. Powerful, honest, and inspirational, Hold on Tight inspires readers to never give up.
“This brisk and honest account through a mother’s eyes of her two children, from infancy to adulthood, is a powerful story of struggle, uncertainty, determination, hope and triumph. It demonstrates the need for both formal and informal supports – in healthcare, schools, workplaces, and the community – with the knowledge and instincts to help. It tells how two young people managed to find their place in the world and how their parents learned to celebrate it. And it provides a distillation of what was needed for the journey.”
David S. Goldbloom,
Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto
“Hold on Tight is a beautifully written account of a mother and her husband’s experience in raising two remarkable children, each with unique and complex psychiatric illnesses. Stewart captures in vivid detail the complicated journey so often involved in diagnosing and treating youth with significant mental health conditions. Hold on Tight keenly reflects the emotional toll that childhood mental illness often takes on not just the affected child, but also the family unit. Throughout this book, Stewart provides practical, useable guidance and pearls that will no doubt prove helpful to readers as they navigate their own journeys.
—Erica L. Greenberg,
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital
Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
“I laughed, I cried. Anyone with a child who has a mental illness or developmental disability should read this book and learn that they are not alone in the challenges they face.”
President and CEO, Kerry’s Place Autism Services
“Much has been written for the public about mental illness in the last two decades. A small, but growing literature, has also seen descriptions from the patients’ perspectives. But there has been almost nothing about the experiences of parents of children growing up with severe mental illnesses.
Jan Stewart has capably filled that void by describing the roller-coaster lives of a family raising and living with two children with severe mental illness. It is an honest and insightful account that will inform families going through such challenges. This book will be of great interest to all who care about this critical issue.
Ms. Stewart has good practical advice – on the nature of assessments, how to select specialists, what schools can enhance rather than impede children, and later approaches to vocations and living accommodation. But it also describes some less well-considered issues – including such things as expectations, guardianship, approaches to birth control, and dealing with problems of overspending related to impulse control.
Ms. Stewart displays a blend of compassion, knowledge, and insight. The lessons learned section is the most practical part of this book and centres around the role of the parent with advice such as trusting one’s instincts, being tenacious, finding the right supports and specialists, and insisting on integrated partnerships with professionals.
Everyone needs an advocate, and we do need partnerships in care, but more than that, we need love. How fortunate the Stewart children have been to have such loving and dedicated parents.”
—Paul Garfinkel, O.C., M.D., FRCP, FRSC
Inaugural Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto
“In the aptly titled Hold on Tight, the author, Jan Stewart, captures the need for a long horizon and multiple strategies to cope and ultimately come to terms with complex mental illness in those we love the most. The skill and dedication of many professionals is highlighted together with hope based on many available impactful interventions. The frank and honest lessons learned and practical advice in the final section, “What We’ve Learned”, will remain relevant and practical for years ahead.”
—L. Trevor Young, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
“A peek into a family’s successes, trials and tribulations, and many helpful hints along the way. Jan is an amazing role model. She is a master of her own story, and thoughtfully uses storytelling to teach us about human experience. Thank you for sharing your family with us all.”
Executive Director, Autism Speaks Canada
“This story of resilience will bring hope to parents faced with similar challenges. It should be a ‘must-read’ for mental health professionals, and I for one will recommend it to trainees as a book that will give them greater understanding and empathy for the families with whom they work. The balanced perspective of the book ... will do much to increase understanding and reduce stigma.”
—Paul Arnold, MD, PhD, FRCPC; Director, The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education; Alberta Innovates Translational Health Chair in Child and Youth Mental Health; Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Genetics, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
About the Author:
Jan Stewart is a highly regarded mental health governance expert and advocate. Her brutally honest memoir Hold on Tight: A Parent's Journey Raising Children with Mental Illness describes her emotional roller coaster story parenting two children with multiple mental health disorders. Her mission is to empower and inspire parents to persevere, as well as to better educate their families, friends, healthcare professionals, educators, and employers. Jan chairs the Board at Kerry's Place Autism Services, Canada's largest autism services provider, and was previously Vice Chair at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She spent most of her career as a senior partner with the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder. Jan is a Diamond Life Master in bridge and enjoys fitness, genealogy, and dancing.