Guest post: "It's too easy for our daughter to self-harm with paracetamol"
Vikki Harris's daughter took her first overdose aged 12 - now, she is campaigning for legislation to restrict paracetamol sale to minors
Posted on: Thu 01-Sep-16 16:56:16
(76 comments )
At the age of 12, our daughter seemed to be holding life in her hands - she was bright and articulate, a social butterfly. Then, she overdosed. Our world and hers came crashing down.
Unbeknownst to us or her teachers, our youngest child had been systematically bullied for over a year. Older boys targeted her, calling her names and spitting in her hair. Having always been taught to be resilient, she'd tried to ride the storm single-handedly, hoping that ignoring the bullies would make them stop. Sadly, as her mental health began to deteriorate, her close circle of friends dispersed - perhaps for reasons of self preservation, they united with the bullies. Left alone to face the daily tirade of abuse, she no longer had the strength to continue.
Our daughter’s chosen drug of harm is paracetamol. It is cheap enough to be accessible with pocket money, and with no legal restrictions with regard to selling to children, it can be bought without challenge. This seemingly innocuous painkiller is a potent drug that can cause irreversible organ damage - and death - in relatively small doses. It is a hepatotoxin; as it is processed by the body, it starts to destroy the cells of the liver. It can take days for the person who has overdosed on paracetamol to feel unwell. By this point they may be reaching the end of the three-day window when the antidote will work - and they may have changed their mind about wanting to cause themselves lasting damage. However, after this point, no amount of medical intervention bar a liver transplant can help, and liver damage or an incredibly painful death ensues.
Every minute is spent closely watching her, monitoring her mental health. She cannot bath or shower unsupervised, nor can she be left alone in her bedroom or even have access to her own money. We have to take these rights away from her to keep her safe.
Through a tumultuous and terrifying four year journey with our daughter, we have learnt that numerous overdoses haven't signalled a yearning to end her own life. She only wishes to quieten the raging torrent in her mind and find a modicum of relief.
At the beginning of this summer we were confident that our child was about to enter a new chapter of her life. She had secured a college place for September - no mean feat when you haven’t attended school since Year Eight and have only sporadically accessed home tutoring due to mental health. We were hopeful that a fresh start in further education would be the challenge she needed to focus on something positive.
Last week, I realised this was all in jeopardy. The phone rang and I picked up, expecting to hear my daughter on the other end. I answered in my best Scottish accent, angling for a cheap laugh. Instead it was her dad: “You need to get here,” he said. “She’s slashed her arm with a Stanley knife.” Instantly my hand shook, my stomach dropped and I found it hard to find my own voice, let alone an accent.
After a long, calm summer, careless words from a friend have sent my daughter's mental health spiralling. Although the friend has since apologised, our daughter is still visibly wilting before our eyes. She is hellbent on harming herself to appease her demons - I am hellbent on stopping her.
Every minute is spent closely watching her, monitoring her mental health. She cannot bath or shower unsupervised, nor can she be left alone in her bedroom or even have access to her own money. We have to take these rights away from her to keep her safe. Past history suggests that, finding no relief from cutting herself, my daughter’s next attempt will be to self-poison, the Russian roulette of self-harm.
We hope this won’t happen, but out of my sight I know how simple it would be for her to access paracetamol - and she’s by no means the only one. Of children under 15 presenting to hospital after deliberate overdose, more than 50% had taken paracetamol. It is shocking that so many young people are able to harm themselves so easily. It frightens and enrages me that the government won't review the current legislation that does not restrict paracetamol sale to minors - which is why I am currently raising awareness and accruing public support to try to change this.
As for our personal journey - every day shows me just how determined my daughter is. Yesterday, I bought her, as requested, a set of sparkly emery boards. Today she has no skin left on her knuckles. Today I learnt another lesson. Where self-harm is concerned, it is so difficult for parents to protect our children from themselves - we need what help we can get, and legislating on paracetamol sales is a necessary first step.
Vikki Harris is calling on the government to restrict paracetamol sale to minors - you can sign her petition here.
By Vikki Harris
I have signed.
Awful for your whole family.
Wishing you and you daughter well.
Ive signed. So sorry for what's happened to your family.
People really minimise paracetamol because it is so freely available but it can be an extremely dangerous drug. A relatively small amount can cause irreversible damage. I actually didn't know it wasn't age restricted.
I've signed. I am quite shocked to find it's not age-restricted. I always assumed it was tbh. Appalling given the damage it can do.
I realise you are already accessing mental health services with her, but this charity www.selfharm.co.uk/ works with young people who self harm to help them towards recovery. It also has areas of the website for parents to have support too. Very sorry to hear about the struggles your daughter is having.
I have signed.
I hadn't realized it wasn't age restricted and I'm an RMN. Im so sorry for what you and your family are going through op, mental illness is so cruel.
I am so so sorry for what you have been through.
But where does one stop? What about ibuprofen? The other multitude of freely available drugs that will result in death if over dosed on?
I self harmed extensively as a teenager and young adult.
I really believe it is important that young people have access to self harm until such time as they have had enough therapy to stop on their own. Blades self harming, where not too deep and with adequate wound care, does not have the life long risks that drug abuse does. And if she's started taking paracetamol what other drugs - legal or otherwise - may she resort to?
I was (eventually) under the care of a psychiatrist who used to request the young people in the unit told someone they wished to self harm, preferably observed during, then the wound assessed and care (like stitches) given immediately if required and stitches consented to. The relief of working with someone who didn't just say self-harm=bad you aren't allowed to do it was immense. And wonderful.
Trying to take away all methods of self harm simply doesn't work. She will still have nails, teeth. Vulnerable membranes that don't require much damage to bleed and cause pain.
I went through a period of using drugs to self harm - mainly legal ones - I dabbled with paracetamol. I also went through a period (before meeting the above psychiatrist) of being on 'watch' with no access to sharps, drugs etc. I damaged my nose, eyes, tongue, skin between my fingers and soles of my feet in this time.
To this day I am affected by drug use and emergency harming but my use of blades has just given me a bunch of old scars.
I would really encourage you to work with your daughter to understand her coping strategies. Trying to shut them down is unlikely to work and will probably just damage communication, when what you need right now is good communication, and lots of it.
Can I ask a simple (possibly stupid) question? Are young people under 15 significantly more susceptible to the effects of an excessive amount of paracetamol than adults?
Have there been any studies on the impact of the law limiting the number
of painkillers that can be bought in one transaction? I thought that was brought in to prevent impulse buying ahead of a suicide attempt.
I would be concerned if girls were unable to buy painkillers to help deal with things like period pains without having an adult purchase them on their behalf.
flowers for Vikki and your family
I'm very sorry for the problems you are facing and I hope your daughter gets better soon. But I won't be signing I'm afraid. I don't think it would be appropriate to remove the ability of a 14 year old with a splitting headache to obtain a packet of paracetamol (numbers of which they can buy already being restricted) on their own.
The majority of teens are perfectly capable of following the safe usage instructions, and to remove their ability to access the drugs wouldn't be proportionate. I'm sorry that your daughter chooses paracetamol as her method to self harm, but if you were to take away that option it appears she would simply choose something else.
I wish your daughter and your family all the best and i sincerely hope she recovers sooner rather than later.
Ignore the ludicrous post from Hellsbells. Totally inappropriate.
HellsBells post was far from ridiculous.
I stabbed myself in the corner of my eye with a straightened out paper clip dropped in the hospital corridors that I managed to swop and hide up my sleeve for later FFS. Should teenagers not be allowed to buy paper clips?
Infantilising teenagers does not help them heal. Only effective long term coping strategies gained through extensive therapy and possibly the use of appropriate medication does that.
As you know from experience self harming can be done with almost anything.
As much as I sympathise with your situation, I don't think a restriction on the sale of paracetamol is the answer.
My post was not inappropriate. It is sad that the OPs daughter is self harming this way. But that is not a reason to prevent others from accessing the relevant products, which they are perfectly capable of using safely.
If you want to self harm, you will. Abd I speak as someone who, as a teen, took a paracetamol overdose. I thank fuck it didn't kill me. And you know what - if paracetamol hadn't been available I'd have picked something else (like drinking bleach).
Very surprised to hear there is no age restriction. My daughter is 26 and three years ago was recommend to take 8 paracetamol and 8 iberbrufen a day by the doctor for an ongoing condition. She had to go to pharmacies every few days and always had to show her i.d. We live in Lincolnshire
I got I.D'd before for buying paracetamol, also, when I worked in a shop years ago we weren't allowed to sell more than one box of painkillers at a time, and not to under 16s if I remember rightly.
It was ASDA that I.D'd me.
Thank you for all your kind comments, I just wanted to add that we have good days too, days when we make memories to help through the difficult times and although my daughters freedom is restricted she still has a good quality of life as opposed to being sectioned against her will. I fully understand that restricting the sale of paracetamol won't stop children self harming but it's a preventative measure. My daughter took her first overdose at the age of twelve, in Waitrose you have to be ten years old to buy paracetamol, personally I really don't believe a child so young should be self medicating? I also understand that lots of other methods of self harm can be used although it's unlikely that biting, scratching, forcing foreign objects into soft tissue or cutting will end the young persons life, paracetamol will. It's worth noting that you must be over 18 to purchase razor blades.
Sadly, my daughter does scratch and cut herself on a regular basis, she is never judged or admonished but is fully supported in talking through her feelings afterwards, we have and always will have a strong relationship where all lines of communication are open. Immediately after self harming my daughter will seek me out to be held and soothed until her tears dry and if we can't tend to her wounds ourself our local 24 hour emergency unit will help, again she is never judged but treated with dignity and respect.
I have fought and successfully gained funding for my daughter to have specialist counselling which I hope will eventually teach her the elusive coping strategies that she so desperately needs.
Tomorrow is another day and for that I will be eternally grateful.
sales of paracetamol are already restricted though?
Pack sizes and the amount you can buy in one go is limited without a prescription. She's need to put an awful lot of effort in going to several shops etc before she could buy enough to seriously overdose.
to the pp who asked- no teens are no more susceptible to paracetamol overdose than adults.
0/p do I understand correctly that your DD has not yet self harmed with paracetamol, you are running this campaign because she might in the future? In that case where do you stop? Ban sales of oven cleaner to under 18's? weedkiller? foxglove plants? you could ban everything and they'll still find something to self-harm with, as pp said. Seems a bit of an odd campaign to me, particularly as there are already restrictions in place to prevent access to toxic amounts...
The problem is if she goes to a pharmacy and is gillick competent then she can buy drugs over the counter if it's within the license of that drug.
if you read the small print it's limited to 3 packs per customer, over 16's only.
When you argue against the sale to minors, do you mean over 18's then?
No way in the UK today can you buy enough paracetamol in one transaction to kill yourself.
One pack can cause irreversible damage or death, in the same shop you can't but chocolate liqueurs if you're under 18.
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