16 yr old son, self harming and possible depression(19 Posts)
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My first post on here, so hope this is in the right place.
I found out about a year ago that my 16 yr old son has been cutting his arms with razor blades. I was horrified and took him to the doctors who reassured me that although not a healthy course of action, wasn't as rare as I might have thought, and that he would grow out of it. My son now uses this as an 'excuse' whenever it happens again - "it's ok mum, as everyone does it". Which of course isn't true, and doesn't make it any easier for me to deal with. Every time he promises he won't do it again. Until the next time.
In the last few months though he has become very withdrawn, rarely leaving his bedroom, socialising extremely rarely, allowing long established friendships to drift away, doing minimal revision for his GCSEs (which he scraped through rather than achieving the grades he was predicted). He is doing no work whatsoever for his A Levels. He flies off the handle whenever I try to talk to him, is nasty to his younger sisters, and basically spends the majority of his time on the laptop/PS3. He is angry, rude and lies constantly about anything and everything, even things which are trivial.
He has recently met a girlfriend who is the only person he will go out to see, however she also has a background of self harm, so I feel isn't a healthy influence on him.
We have a very stable family home life, although have recently moved to a new area. He seems to have settled into college, but has been told that unless he gets on and does some work he will not be able to continue on his A Level courses.
I truly believe that he is suffering from depression, but has blankly refused to come to see the doctors, either on his own, or with either his dad or me.
Any suggestions please as I am at my wits end, and our family life is being destroyed.
It isn't true that everyone is doing it, of course, but lots of teens do. I did, quite severe cutting and burning from age 14 until about 19 or 20. And I knew lots of people who did it too, to a greater or lesser extent.
It IS serious and I am not trivialising it at all - but however he is feeling inside, isolating himself, neglecting his friends and abusing his family is not going to make him feel any better. I think you need to break the cycle of his rudeness and evasiveness and set down some new ground rules. He must go to the GP and talk about his depression and self-harming - you can go with him or he can go alone, but he must go. He cannot continue spending all his time staring at screens, neglecting his school work and being unpleasant to his parents and siblings, I would take away privileges like the PS3 and he can earn them back through making an effort and positive behaviour.
Alongside this I would be doing everything possible to get him to open up. Can you arrange some counselling privately, would he agree to that? Could you give him a notebook to write down his frustrations and worries which he can then share with you if he wants to? Does he have time alone with you or his father which would give an opportunity for him to talk?
My suggestions are probably crap, and others will have better ones, but I wish you the very best of luck in getting though this hard time with your ds, and I want to say that it isn't bad parenting or your fault - lots of teens go through this for a whole plethora of reasons x
I agree with Greensleeves - establishing some rules which perhaps the whole family can agree on, DS included, seems a sensible and practical start.
Self-harming may be short lived, though that's serious enough, it may, on the other hand, become prolonged and its effects can, as you know, be very serious.
A two pronged approach seems sensible - the ground rules, set for everyone's benefit, and help and support for DS. Is there anyone at college - a support network/a counselling service/his tutor as a first port of call? When one of my DSs was at a sixth form college I found (far more so than with the school another DS is at) them willing to talk to me and quite open - also quite well resourced in the support line.
Failing that, support in the community - his or your GP may be a useful first step in that direction.
If you think that your DS is suffering from deperession - well, that certainly needs addressing and you'll know what's available in your area for this age group (or your GP certainly will). You mention the computer - there's no doubt (I know this from my own family life) that time spent away from it, preferably out of doors/active and with other people is a great and natural anti-depressant. It may not be the whole answer - and in your DS's case probably not - but you're right to want to get him off the dam thing as much as possible.
Agree, two-pronged approach and prise him away from the computer
Bump - ideally Custardo or Maryz should see this!
I'm just marking my place.
I'll be back later and take a look.
He ought to go to the gp, of course, but that is easier said that done .
He certainly does sound depressed. My ds (18) also suffers from depression which is moderate and situational (v unhappy at sixthform of his grammar school).
I think it must be really hard for you if he refuses to seek help. My ds did go to the GP when he was at his worst and was offered ADs but is trying to avoid them if possible.
What has worked for him to a good degree is Cognitive Behavoural Therapy. I pay privately, as the waiting list to see someone on the NHS (he did that a couple of years ago) was 10 months. He sees his CBT therapist weekly, and it's intended to be a short course of 6 to 8 sessions.
I don't have the answer to what to do if he isn't prepared to help himself by seeing someone .
Hope you manage to get him to get some help, one way or the other.
Your GP would be the first step, but any help offered will only work if your DS has the insight to see and accept he needs help. I'm not altogether sure that talking therapies work for a lot of teens, as it seems that the intense one to one nature of counselling can make them feel cornered, and requires an emotional vocabulary that some teens just don't have. I've found the best place to have a conversation is on a car journey as there is no eye contact and no place to wander off to.
Your DS will not stop SH until he chooses to, all you can do is make sure he has antiseptics and dressings to prevent infection. He will not work for his A levels until he chooses to ( it may be worth considering whether a Btec course may be more engaging). You need to step back and let him make his own mistakes as much for your own sanity as for his well being.
Making use of pS3 and the internet dependent on him meeting basic rule of being civil to his sisters might help.
I know it's hard but trying to disengage from his behaviour may defuse the situation.
Oh Milly, that sounds very difficult and upsetting.
I'm afraid I agree with Bright: support for teenagers is hard to find/access, and often doesn't suit them... And only he can stop himself from self-harming...
You may not be able to get counselling for him, but how about arranging some for you? It sounds like his behaviour is very hard to deal with, and if I were you, I know I'd be feeling a complicated combination of emotions, including fear, worry and anger.
It definately needs sorting out and nipping in the bud now. I started self-harming at 12 and still do it now at 27. It becomes like an old friend. Not sure what to suggest though
First thing I would say is stop making him promise not to do it. I know that is hard. But it will make it harder for him and for you in the long run. For him it is an extra pressure to deal with, and he will feel like he is letting you down when he slips up. For you, you will just be walking around on egg shells waiting for it to happen. So change it; tell him how upsetting you find it if you want, or, better yet, tell him "I'm sorry you felt the need to do that", and move the conversation on.
Have you ruled out drugs use for his behavior as well? I'm sorry to sound crass.
What have the school said about his grades and behavior to you? Is the threat of not being able to continue a real worry to him, or just someone else telling him what to do?
If he is not willing to see the GP, then maybe he would be willing to see someone in school. I would still push for him to see the GP though, even tell him you are going elsewhere and then turn up at the GPs if needed. Ask for a referral to CAMHS if you believe it is needed.
As a long-term sufferer of depression here is my advice:
Laptop/computer games gone, if you want you could instigate having access to them as a reward for positive behaviour or just totally remove them.
Ignore the self harming, he's not ending up needing stiches every time he does it, yes it is unpleasant but with the depression treated, he will find it less tempting to do it.
Take him to the gp and get him put on a low level of anti-depressants, offer him a reward for going, like taking him and his girlfriend out for a meal or something.
He needs to see a therapist, with his level of depression, I doubt cbt is going to be of much use. I'd suggest something like analytical therapy as a starting point.
Lastly make sure he knows that you love him, that he's not being punished for being depressed.
I know that his a-levels are important but perhaps he could defer for a year while he gets his head sorted?
Good luck, I know it's probably really hard for you as well as him.
I was a self harmer and a parent of a self harmer.
my daughter was 12/13 when she started and stopped mostly after her father left us both because she could not put that on me alone but there have been a very few very bad incidents in the past 18 months. we have had A LOT of counselling the two of us, I am also a person centred counsellor myself.
I have to strongly but politely disagree with Maggie do not ignore it in anyway let him see that it upsets you.
be honest!! that is the single most important thing I can say, don't pretend don't try and hide your reactions. If this upsets you let him see if you are upset around him.
there are many reasons people selfharm, my daughter calls it an addiction, it was also a cry for attention, it can be a way to fit in with a group, an expression of some greater pain they have no other tools to express or one of a countless range of causes
don't punish him he hasn't done anything wrong. acknowledge, at least to your self, this is his body and his right, I know how hard that is believe me but it is.
It is almost always in part a call for attention let it work the reason children do this to seek attention is because it works and it should your son is screaming for attention and he needs it. I know he is hiding in his room and pushing you away. ignoring it will likely lead to an escalation into even more dangerous territory. when a child pushes away our job is to calmly but firmly hold steadily on to them.
Except the other self-harmers in his life. they do understand and yes they except this behaviour, even encourage it by normalising it. but they are the people he is most likely to open up to about this and then come to you if you work on communication.
CBT versus PCT
both have their place and some CBT tricks are incredibly helpful but it is a quick fix and will only fix the symptoms not the cause.
Look for a person centred counsellor for the whole family trust me this is something your whole family will need to address
there are some really good websites for self help CBT
Do not take anything away this is punishment to a teenager and that is totally the wrong message, it will also further isolate him. instead insist on more family activities or that the gaming console moves into the living room, ours are and we play xbox instead of watching soaps, move your interests into his area instead of dragging him into yours if he is on facebook get an account and even if you don't friend him, familiarize yourself with it so you know the world he is inhabiting.
Don't know much about it but what I do know is that self-harming will cause pain which will cause release of natural endorphines which are similar to morphine and can lead to an addictive cycle of self-abuse.
Having said that I caught my son self-harming years ago. Turned out he was just trying to show "how hard he was" to boys at school he wanted to impress. It wasn't repeated.
Hello all, and thanks for so many really helpful replies. It is so important for me to know that other people understand.
Things reached crisis point on Monday, after a counselling chat room he was using raised the alarm after he disappeared from a conversation. The police were called and traced the computer which was being used. Although the phone call from the local police came as a massive shock, to us and more importantly, him, it has served as a very helpful turning point for ds.
DS has now accepted that he has a problem and has visited the gp. I was able to speak with the gp first then ds had his appointment. AD were not thought to be appropriate, so counselling has been recommended. I was pleased to find out that ds has been accessing the college counselling service for a couple of months already, organised by himself, so hopefully he can work through some of the issues he has.
That must have been so scary for you. However, sometimes things need to be 'drastic' before they can recover. It is really positive that your DS has already been accessing the counselling service at college, like you say, and hopefully he will improve.
They tend to be cautious of prescribing ADs to under 18s, however, if either you or your DS get to the point where you feel that they are needed, do not be afraid to go back and push for them.
I am glad your son sort out support on his own, that means he recognises he has a problem.
My daughter's college is very good and the support is getting her through.
I'm glad your DS is getting some support, Millie. Are you?
I think jay's (1st) post was really good - very insightful, helpful and wise. I agree very strongly with her advice - don't ignore, don't punish.
I think there is a link between self harming and control. Teenagers often feel very out-of-control - there are lots of changes going on in their lives, and things like school and parents that have a lot of control over them, and I think they can feel quite powerless. I think some of them self harm because this is one thing they feel they can control... (Tho' some of them sadly can't).
I think it may help to try to support your son to increase the amount of control he has over his own life. Support him to make his own decisions - about little things as well as big ones.
And don't worry too much about A levels. A lot of teens seem to 'lose a year' around this age - they have some kind of crisis, or drop out, or mess about. It's so common that the system even has an extra year built in, so they can re-take exams or change courses and take 3 years instead of 2 if they need to.
I'm glad your son has been to the gp - but do keep an eye on him. If they accept he has depression, don't rule out anti-depressants.
In my experience teenagers struggle with counselling and don't benefit from it as much as adults might. Simply because their thoughts tend to be much more chaotic and they find it hard to express (even if they know) what is bothering them.
Don't worry too much about education at the moment - in the long term having a happy child is much more important than having an academically achieving child.
Can you access counselling for you? Dealing with a very unhappy child is extremely stressful, and it might be really helpful for you to have someone to talk to about it all.
Oops, when I said "I'm glad your DS is getting some support, Millie. Are you?", I didn't mean "Are you happy?" I meant "Are you getting some support?"
I agree with Maryz that dealing with an unhappy child is very stressful, and counselling is a good idea.