Guest post: "My daughter's determined streak nearly killed her"
From a suicide attempt to steady recovery, Suzanne tells the story of her daughter's mental illness - and makes a plea to other parents who are worried about their children
Posted on: Tue 07-Feb-17 10:31:55
(44 comments )
When your first child becomes a teenager, you expect sullen looks and a resistance to parental requests. You know there will likely be a steady withdrawal to the bedroom and you begin commiserating with fellow parents as your once motivated, happy child morphs into a recluse overnight. Isn't that what all teenagers do?
But when the faddy diets start including internet-sourced laxatives and the time spent alone involves small razors, the jokes soon fade.
The first time my 15-year-old daughter took an overdose, I quickly found out that I was indeed 'good in a crisis'. Stumbling across some empty pill packets discarded on the bathroom floor, I asked her if she had taken them. As she nodded, I knew that this would be a moment permanently etched on my memory.
What causes a bright young girl - a girl with the prospect of a wonderful future and a loving family behind her - to try and take their own life?
It's the question that has kept me awake at night, and the question that well-meaning family and friends ask time and time again. I've accepted though that there isn't an answer, and that mental illness can strike anyone at any time - and it does not discriminate.
On that first occasion, the ambulance never came. I bundled my drowsy and emotional daughter into the car and promised her that I would do everything in my power to ensure that she got the help she needed.
I naively thought that I could keep that promise.
She's doing so much better now. But the physical and mental scars that she is left with will likely haunt us forever.
Despite the mental anguish she was experiencing, with no lasting physical damage she was deemed fit to return home the next morning. I was assured that our local CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) unit would be in touch.
We didn't receive our first CAMHS appointment through the post until two weeks later. The Duty Mental Health Practitioner - the person assigned to work out how serious a child's mental state is - had been given the task of deciding whether she should be bumped up the waiting list. She met with my daughter for 20 minutes, then met my husband and I for a further 20 minutes. Despite the fact that when asked if she would attempt suicide again, my daughter rated herself as a 7/10, she was put back on the waiting list, to see one of only two psychiatrists assigned to the entire borough.
Soon enough we were back in A&E. She had disclosed her utter despair to me in a text, including the date on which she had chosen to end her life. But our GP and the private therapist who had been desperately trying to "keep her safe" for the past 3 months, told me that the best chance of getting any help would be to go to A&E and refuse to leave.
Five days later, our 15-year-old daughter was voluntarily admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit, 80 miles from home. Thankfully, the CAMHS psychiatrist who had been sent to assess her immediately recognised that my daughter's determined streak, the one that we had always been so fiercely proud of, was going to kill her if something was not done.
After a 5-month stay in an NHS adolescent psychiatric ward, our daughter left with a prescription for the medication that continues to be vital to her wellbeing and a course of intense therapy provided by our local CAMHS unit.
She's doing so much better now. But the physical and mental scars that she is left with will likely haunt us forever.
Place2Be, the charity that first initiated Children’s Mental Health Week, is running a campaign in schools across the country, urging children to be kinder to one another. It's such a simple act, but can be so effective. There are other things that need to happen too. Our society needs to accept that this silent killer is not something to be ashamed of, so that our children realise it's OK to speak out.
Parents must be educated in the early signs, the ones that might ordinarily be dismissed as 'typical teenage behaviour'. And our schools should be forced into taking their students' mental health more seriously than their GCSE grades.
If you’re at all concerned about your child and not sure where to turn, the charity Young Minds offers parents a free, confidential one-hour telephone consultation.
Sorry for what you and your family have gone through.
We have been there too.
It's so very very hard. :-(
Bet your daughter is a wonderful girl. My dd is too.
Thanks for your post. Absolutely agree that mental health must be a priority. I think it's also important to say to parents that this is not their fault. Parents need support from their peers as they try to look after and support their children.
And our schools should be forced into taking their students' mental health more seriously than their GCSE grades.
But what am I meant to do about it in school? I do take the well-being of my students seriously. I teach 236 students in an academic subject and raise concerns with the DSL and pastoral leaders where I can and based on seeing my students for 1 hour a week.
But I am a teacher not a healthcare professional.
I don't believe that schools and thus teachers can take the blame here and I am sick of being told that we are failing our students because some develop mental health conditions. The irony is that the increasing responsibility and 'teacher blame' culture is actually making me ill and crippled with anxiety!
It is evident that you have been let down and that is sad and you've had a dreadful experience. But is it not failings in the health care system that don't offer early intervention to teens, and who run long waiting lists for MH appointments that are the issue and this is what needs the focus in your closing remark.
I have nothing but sympathy for teachers re stress but the op wasn't, I think, talking about individuals and their role. She's talking about education systems in which I get umpteen letters a year about my child's progress against targets and absolutely nothing about her pastoral and mental well being.
I am the writer of this post. I didn't mean for you to read this as 'no teachers care' I absolutely know that some do but just do not have the time (or resources) to cope with mental health. I also know that some head teachers would like to add more into the curriculum re: mental wellbeing, than they do at present, but their hands our tied in terms of timetabling and pressures from the government. I feel that too much attention is paid to good grades and that is not a criticism of teachers, it is a criticism of our education system. My daughter ended up getting emails from teachers saying that she wasn't performing and that 'as the only A* student in the class' her teacher was concerned. That was crippling for her with anxiety. I do understand however that a teacher who is under pressure from the government to get good grades, this will end up coming first. I do attribute our education system to being part of the reason why our children are suffering with mental health problems, I do not blame teachers in the slightest. Please hear me on that point.
I'm so sorry that you've had this experience too, I know that our story is not isolated at all. I find it so sad that our teenagers are facing these daily mental health struggles without the support they need. I hope you're all improving and that it hasn't put too much strain on you as a family.
I think it's really hard, if not impossible. Teachers have no time for pastoral care, they're too busy filling in forms to show they filled in all the forms and met all the academic targets. There's no budget for it either inside or outside schools. Mental Health is being bandied around as if it's a priority, but just like education, the health service has to prove it meets targets, and it's ridiculously hard to prove you did actually just save a life - either right then, or 5 or 10 years down the line. That's why Place2Be is so important.
Pressure on our young people is simply too much.
My dd's learning mentor kept her in school and held her hand when she took some GCSE's two weeks after being hospitalised.
Some schools would have excluded dd - her behaviour was pretty awful: truanting, arguing with teachers, walking out of lessons, refusing to do things she didn't want to do, including PE and all homework. Her school kept her in an internal exclusion unit, supporting her and is to just keep going until the end of year 11, rather than move her to a pupil referral unit (which would have been the next move) which would have been seriously traumatic for her.
Their 'reward' was to look worse on the league tables as she was a high achieving student who left with only 2 GCSE's and this affects their stats.
Since then they have shed many of their learning mentors, and will be shedding many more support staff as giant budget cuts (900k over the next two years) start to bite.
It makes me utterly sick that the government tells schools to support children's MH needs better and then curs colossal amounts of money from their budgets, resulting in more stressed teachers, larger classes, fewer support staff.
There is more emphasis and more attention being given to mental health in schools than ever before. It's a critical part of PSHE, and whilst I know CAHMs is pretty abysmal, one of the reasons for it being abysmal is overuse, which suggests children are being referred.
Whilst my heart goes out to the OPs daughter and I wish her a full recovery, like a previous poster I feel this is not for schools to tackle. We are not qualified healthcare professionals and serious MH difficulties should not be presented as something curable by children 'being kind to one another.'
This message is in response to 'diamondsforapril's point around it 'not being for schools to tackle'. I absolutely agree that there are many things at stake here and this was only one of the things I cited as needing to happen. I don't agree that it's on a school's curriculum - in my experience, maybe once a year? Place2Be are suggesting that all children, from primary school upwards, should be encouraged to be kinder to one another. This is where it starts and children's mental wellbeing is seriously affected by those around them. I think schools need to be addressing it during the working day, before anyone gets to the point that my daughter did. Obviously once anxiety and depression take a deep root, it is beyond any teacher's remit. The general mental health dialogue needs to be more open - my daughter felt ashamed and as though she would be letting the school (and us) down if she were to say how utterly overwhelmed she felt. She therefore kept it a secret. I know that teachers are backed into a corner but our education system is far too pressurised and results-driven.
The state of CAMHS in this country drives me to despair! The stories I read day after day on forums I frequent are terrible reading. There are so many young people struggling and suffering, but so little help and support available. It's a disgrace.
here is an interesting and alternative stance on mental health in schools.
But once again Suzanne you are coming back to blaming education.
The vast majority of students come through education without mental illness or suicide attempts. Many people cope well with what your daughter perceived as pressure, to another child it might be seen as encouraging or pushing oneself to achieve potential. You are just lashing out at an easy target.
Maybe nothing is to blame? Maybe biology is to blame? Genetics? Parental or peer relationships? Lack of open dialogue at home? Personality? Predisposition? It will be a bit of all of this perhaps.
It doesn't have to be education you direct your attack at. Think beyond blaming 'the system' and look for ways to build resilience otherwise life will be struggle after struggle.
doyouthinkso - what horrible and defensive posts.
I am a massive defender of teachers - I think the system at the moment doesn't benefit anyone. However, Suzanne's daughter spends a huge chunk of her year at school. It is absolutely unacceptable for her teachers to pile pressure on her via email - I'm really surprised you haven't seen fit to comment on that.
No children should be put under such an enormous amount of pressure by their teachers, especially if they have mental health problems.
And teachers and parents need to work together if we are ever to stop this relentless pressure on 'achievement'. We are united in that being not a good thing for our children or teachers surely?
Horrible??? Fine I'll fuck off with my opinions as you feel the need to police the debate.
I've been the teenager in this situation. It started at the beginning of secondary school. My teachers were fantastic. When they found out about my self harm, they spent a great deal of time with me and the school nurse and school counsellor. Even though I spent 6-12 months at a time in hospitals from year 7 onwards, they still allowed me to come back and attempt my A levels even though I hadn't done my GCSES. I couldn't fault any of the school staff.
To all you parents struggling with a child with problems like this, it's not easy, but a huge part of recovery is a supportive family. I'm lucky that my mum has stood by me through it all, some of my fellow patients weren't so lucky and were completely disowned by their parents. Even though I found her annoying at the time because she slept in my room at night, I wasn't allowed to shower or bath on my own, I couldn't go out all so she could make sure I didn't hurt myself. I HATED it. But I now see why she did it.
I have my own daughter now and I would do whatever it took to keep her safe.
Bit of a ramble there but my point is, to all the mums who have teenagers with these problems, you are doing a great job. Your children are lucky to have such supportive parents.
As for the teacher thing, things have probably changed a lot since I was at secondary school (13 years ago :/) but I found just one teacher I got ok with, one who I felt comfortable with and she helped me so much. I wasn't put under any pressure to achieve and was told that if I was overwhelmed, I could just walk out and go to the matron who was really understanding. I had appointments with the school counsellor a few times a week. I would have thought that mental health would be more of a 'thing' in schools now with all the recent news about it. I'll have to ask my sister (12) as I'm quite curious.
From reading the responses here, I feel very lucky in regards to my school.
I'm sorry if this is a bit rambly. I'm very tired and I've completely forgotten what my point was :/
Calm down -- let's put negativity and blame aside and focus on how we can improve the system and discuss what we can do for our children to help fight this growing problem. This is not a post for silly behaviour.
I think I would rather know how someone could get funding, a bed and intense therapy for seemingly few attempts so quickly. I would hazard a guess there is a few parents on here who would like to know that.
i don't think doyou said anything horrible tbh.
Gamerchick, it seems to vary from area to area, and even from month to month. My DD got intense therapy for a week, which was then cut down from the six weeks she'd been promised to once a week. And that was a lot better than other people I know in the same situation in different areas, and even in this one.
The help you get shouldn't have to be dependent on how many suicide attempts you make, or even if you make one at all, but sadly that does seem to be the case. Certainly for my DD therapy ramped up enormously once she'd made an attempt.
As for what Doyou said, when you are the parent of a child (or in my case, two) with suicidal ideation, then it is almost impossible not to feel that sick lurch in your stomach when someone says something that can be interpreted as meaning that even if it's not all your fault, some of it is. And what Doyou wrote, at least in the last post, did exactly that for me, whether or not it was intended that way.
I think there is little point anyone slinging blame around in any direction. It's not helpful. This is a massively complex situation, and we all need help and support, and not blame.
My DD's school, I have to say, were enormously helpful.
I absolutely feel for you, Suzanne, and I am glad your DD is on the way up (as is mine - long, hard road though it is), and I didn't interpret your post as saying teachers are at fault, but the system that they have to implement, with its emphasis on achievement, achievement, achievement, is.
I think it is good for all of us as parents to realise that sadly this could happen to any one of our children. There is no particular type of family or child more likely to suffer with mental health issues, it can affect anyone. Thanks for sharing Suzanne. x
I stand by my post. I don't think education is ever entirely to blame obviously but to say that it can never be a contributory factor and that it's blaming to acknowledge the part it played is really unhelpful.
We are in an era where our teenagers are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. And research has demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between teenage depression and exams: www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/teenage-mental-health-crisis-rates-of-depression-have-soared-in-the-past-25-years-a6894676.html. I'm not for a minute saying that families play no role in this - but we need to examine teenage depression in the round. Our young people are in absolute crisis - flinging accusations around helps no one, least of all the victims.
I think a few sources dispute that.
I took an overdose at the age of 15, 30 years ago. It was down to a combination of pressure at school from one particular area, raging hormones and being in a family that didn't really talk.
I was offered no mental health counselling or otherwise. The school seemed to blame the teacher for going in hard on me. I always felt guilty for the apology she gave me.
I think that this type of mental health issue is more widely reported than it was 30 years ago. I also think there are more resources to help young people who are in this place than there were 30 years ago.
However the fundamental thing that really pushed me over the edge was pressure. Not clever enough, not beautiful enough, not seen. That's how it felt. I felt invisible and wanted to slip off....maybe...maybe I just wanted to be seen.
Everyone who has any influence on the lives of young humans need to remember how fragile their very essence is. We should teach people how to be human first and foremost, it's tough, it's tricky and it is becoming increasingly so the more we put scores and technology in between our relationships.
I send my children to school for 6 and half hours a day, I do not see how they interact whilst there, the staff will see that. I feel very strongly that there needs to be more communication between parents and teachers on all aspects of our child's growth and not just on the curriculum set out by the Government.
Talk to each other,talk to everyone, including your children.
I'm so sorry to hear your story, it sounds like your daughter is getting the help now.
I worry about my daughter, she has Dyspraxia, so struggles with friendships and always feels different, she is 12 now, but has said on two occasions she wishes she were dead. It's so upsetting to hear and we do talk about why and I think it is to teach the girls who are horrible to her a lesson! What can parents do to try and prevent or help before a situation escalates?
It sounds like you did all the right things with support etc., what would you advise parents in situations like mine? We haven't been to the Dr, although did tell school, she hasn't self harmed, but did say when she feels bad she has to pinch other bite herself, but I have never seen marks.
This sounds awful written down!