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Managing school when the black dog strikes

(11 Posts)
Scout63 Sun 18-Oct-15 09:46:45

My 14yo DD is I believe suffering from depression, as I have posted on here before. I think it, our GP thinks it, some of the more experienced teachers in school think it. In the worst of her low moods she panics and is unable to stay in class; goes on day long crying jags; wants to run away, and indeed occasionally has run away; cuts herself - superficially - with blades; refuses school because, she says, she doesn't have control of her mind; drinks; smokes weed; can't concentrate when she is at school and thus falls behind, thereby increasing her panic and isolating herself from peers who take life more in their stride. 

She has been referred to CAMHS three times, and the last time time (three months ago) they thought she was merely difficult and manipulative, based on a mood questionnaire (that she freely admits to lying on for fear of being thought crazy!) and an hour long interview during which she projected rude surly teenager throughout.

I am sure she is also difficult and manipulative - she's 14, who isn't at that age - but my immediate problem now is how to get her back to school.  She plunged into a new low a week ago, her confidence, resilience and self-esteem have plummeted and she hasn't been at school since. We have a TAC meeting coming up involving DD, me, school, CAMHS and GP and I dearly want it to be a real opportunity for all of us to tackle her problems and help her make the most of her chances. At her best she's bright, funny, affectionate, generous and kind. In her darkest place she's a challenge, and while some school personnel are sympathetic to the idea that she is sick, others think she is merely badly behaved and that I am making excuses for her when I say she's depressed without a formal CAMHS diagnosis. Thanks to a dogged GP CAMHS have now agreed to see her again with a view to 1-1 therapy but that may still be a long time coming and meantime she needs to be in school and getting support there.

Does anyone have any advice on how to approach a TAC meeting so as to come out of it with a constructive and practical plan? The last one we had (four months ago, and much has happened since) seemed to get taken up with proliferating theories as to why she was behaving like this rather than looking for practical ways to help her stay focused and learn.

TheHouseOnTheLane Sun 18-Oct-15 09:49:33

Is home education a possibility? I was just like her....it would have been the best thing for me.

Scout63 Sun 18-Oct-15 10:12:07

I have considered it in moments of despair! I think ultimately though what she would prefer and benefit from most is support to fulfil herself and indeed just be herself in school. When she can manage it - which has been rare recently - she does well and gets a boost from doing well and having friends. What we need I think is to be able to make those positive times more frequent so that they become the norm and she can learn to manage the bad times until they pass. With luck this nightmare time will be the exception in her life rather than the rule, and I do believe (perhaps over-optimistically!) that with sensitive help and support now it can be.

Meloncoley2 Sun 18-Oct-15 21:48:27

I think you are thinking along the right lines OP.
There are on line depression questionnaires you could get your DD to complete which would provide evidence to your TAC.
I am always amazed that a depressed adult would be able to be signed off work, but a child is expected to continue to go to school. This may be OK if school are nurturing, but if some individuals are treating it as a behaviour problem it needs addressing sharply.
Find your school advocate for your child, which may be form tutor, Head of
Year or Senco (who should cover mental health).
Also consider that there may be undiagnosed needs which may be the basis her feeling anxious in school (dyslexia, ASD)

Scout63 Sun 18-Oct-15 22:43:47

Thanks Meloncoley2. Her primary school did once think she was mildly dyslexic because she was quite slow to read but it doesn't seem to be a concern any more and English is one of her best subjects. I think bullying at school was more of an issue when she started secondary and although the incidents have reportedly died down considerably her emotional response to it seems still to be revving. That's my unschooled feeling about it but I'm well aware I could be thinking myself around in circles about it so I could really do with some objectivity. What's undeniable is that she's unhappy, and whatever the cause of this forest fire she badly needs help now putting it out!

Pearl38 Tue 20-Oct-15 01:35:34

My DD is also 14 and is in exactly the same situation, suspected depression self harm no concentration in school, initially I set up a meeting with her head of year after she'd been to the gp who also referred her to CAMHS on an urgent appointment due to her cutting which in itself is a major cry for help, year head set out a plan of time out in school if needed and informed the teachers to come and see him if the work is not completed, I thought great but then she hasn't been able to go to school for a week now, CAHMS seen her within the week and she has started to open up, I suggest you stress how fragile your daughters mental health is at the moment and insist they do more, I have since contacted year head and informed him she might be off for the foreseeable until she is ready to go back and have suggested collecting her work on a twice weekly basis, they really need to be doing more!

Scout63 Tue 20-Oct-15 08:46:20

Thanks Pearl. It sounds like you've had a faster route through this than we have! And hopefully that will make all the difference to your DD. We've been in this labyrinth for about nine months now since DD ran away from a friend's house in the middle of the night and pitched up at school the next morning having spent hours on the street. It was her year head she went to then - a thoroughly decent individual who has been staunchly in her corner through all this. What's so difficult I think is that some of DD's behaviour is as defiant, rude, entitled and self-centred as any teenager I've ever seen (she's my youngest, so I've seen a few...) and it's often hard to put your finger on what is simple teenage bolshie self-will (!) and what is linked to depression and low self-esteem, and perhaps in truth there is no real distinction. I find it difficult myself sometimes to decide what behaviour needs a cuddle and a cup of tea and what sometimes just needs a more straightforward parental warning! I can understand why teachers with 25+ ebullient Year 10s in the class might simply label her self-absorbed and disruptive and elect not to go the extra mile for her. And yet's that what she needs. I've recently found an American set of guidelines for teaching kids with depression in mainstream education and the helpful accommodations that can be made. The US seems to be quite far ahead of the UK in taking the whole child into account - link attached in case you've not seen it www.schoolbehavior.com/Files/tips_mood.pdf. If CAMHS agree this time that DD's mental health is fragile, perhaps with her year head's help we can get school to consider putting some of these accommodations into play. I do believe that if they spent a little more time helping DD they would have to spend a lot less time managing her. I shall pick my way through the TAC meeting with some of these suggestions up my sleeve so as not to ruffle professional feathers... smile

KielyKiely Fri 01-Jan-16 14:52:13

How is it going with all of your DCs? I'm in a similar position at the moment. DS excluded for refusing to take his coat off and screwing up and throwing a maths test. His TA thought he was having a nervous breakdown but Deputy Head remains unmoved by his fragile state. He's on Prozac now and I'm debating how best to tackle the Deputy to get her on board.

The DfE's Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools is my starting point but all views on strategies that have worked are welcome x

Scout63 Sat 02-Jan-16 11:36:23

hi KielyKiely - I'm sorry to hear you and your DS are going through a torrid time. I'd love to be able to offer up some strategies that have worked but as we're still buggering on through our own torrid time anything I have to say needs to be hedged around with the warning that I still don't know definitively what "works" looks like! What I have found useful during the last difficult year though is keeping up a regular dialogue with a small number of teachers who know my DD well and have shown themselves to be both sympathetic and compassionate. (None of them incidentally is a soft touch and when her behaviour is simply normal-adolescent-out-of-order they have been willing to say so, which actually raises them in our estimation!) We had a similar problem last year with a deputy head thinking DD was just an attention seeker, despite a clinical psychologist's input that she is suffering from moderate to severe adolescent depression and panic disorder. What I found most useful during that time was to ask for a meeting with the pastoral staff most closely involved with DD on a day to day basis - in our case the HOY and Head of Inclusion - and talk to them about how we could best work together to ensure that DD gets the education she deserves in spite of her current struggles with her mental health. You say your DS is on medication, which implies that he has a diagnosis of some kind. Can you ask for a meeting with a member of the pastoral care team for his year group or with his class teacher to share and ask for a collaborative strategy to be put in place between school and home? Could it involve your DS's healthcare professional? If that person is a positive champion for your DS of course. Assuming that there will be a positive outcome is something that I've found really helpful in terms of tuning school's expectations too, so I am relentlessly optimistic in my dealings with them. Altogether I've found collaboration to be the most effective strategy, putting it to school that since we have a shared problem it can't be beyond our wit to come up with shared solutions. In our case that's been a combination of authorised absence, sending work home, a small amount of home tuition to ensure that DD doesn't fall even further behind at the beginning of her GCSE courses, a designated tight network of teachers who understand her fragile emotional state, and - after an unconscionable delay and dragging of feet on the part of CAMHS - weekly sessions with a psychologist to help DD develop coping strategies for the anxiety and panic. Good luck. And do remember to look after yourself as well. These really are the hard yards of parenting. flowers

KielyKiely Sun 03-Jan-16 17:21:31

Scout thank you so much for the long and detailed message and the time and care you took to compose it. The support on this thread and on MN generally is so welcomed and often much needed!

Yes, DS has a diagnosis of Executive Functioning Disorder and one of depression too so yes, hard times. I have also looked on the YoungMinds website that has a good section on academic resilience. Like you Scout e do have a couple of gems at the school who look out for and understand DS and CAMHs have been excellent. Despite all this as you know we all have to keep championing the needs of our DC to get their and our voices heard and to effect results. The Deputy Head obviously has a bounty on his head such is her approach. She shows a quite remarkable lack of understanding of all things special needs and mental health and some of her words and actions have been quite breathtaking professionally. It is always difficult when someone in that position in the school has that approach but it doesn't stop us trying to work collaboratively. The plus side of being prescribed an anti depressant (if there is one) is that she has to take her foot off of the pedal just a little.

Do let me know if I can help you in any way - always happy to share positive approaches and practices. Meanwhile, as it is almost 6pm and the last day of the Christmas holiday sending you wine before dry January officially kicks in! x

Scout63 Sun 03-Jan-16 17:54:57

Ha ha. Thank you. Dry January it is! Good luck with the deputy head next term. I shall be trying to get DD back into school through January. She's been off for about a month now for some R&R and more intensive therapy while we try to reset her panic button. In the meantime I've also found the Time to Change website to be quite helpful, especially in terms of its mission to change the stigma surrounding mental health.

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