Parents and Carers – Parent and Carer Experience
In this video, Pat shares her experience supporting her son through crisis who sadly died when he was seventeen.
In the following video Chris shares his experience of being a parent of supporting his daughter through a mental health crisis.
No Harm No Hope
The story of a ‘nearly suicide’
17th April was, without doubt, the worst day of our lives. This is our story and our daughter’s story, which we tell in order to raise awareness of teenage mental health, and how devastating the impact can be.
I would like to say that this Tuesday started as an ordinary day, but it didn’t. Our daughter had been so stressed and anxious the day before that she had been too ill to attend school. Yet another sleepless night meant I slept alongside her as I often do when terrors of the night time have her in their grip. She tossed and turned all night as she wrestled with her fears. She had been on anti-depressants for just 12 days following a diagnosis from a psychiatrist of depression and significant anxiety. This was no surprise to us, the doctor merely confirmed what we already knew. The medicines had not yet taken effect as take several weeks to make a difference.
Our daughter left for school late and in quite a state, highly anxious and very low mood. I emailed her form teacher to say I was worried about her and that she would be late, she had refused a lift to school saying she needed to walk so she could think. At 9am I phoned school to see if she had arrived. The registers were not yet back but she had not signed in late. Panic rose. My phone was not in my bag on silent at work, but on the table in front of me, and it went at 9.15am as the worst day of our lives really began.
To get a phone call to say your daughter has taken an overdose in a local park and is not at school as she should be is just horrendous. I cannot put into words the pain and anguish you feel. We got to the park before the ambulance, and accompanied her as she was rushed to hospital on blue lights and sirens, weaving through the rush hour traffic. We answered questions in A&E, we listened helplessly as she told the nurse she hated school so much she wanted to die. We watched and comforted her as she wretched and gagged drinking liquid charcoal, answered questions from the duty social worker following an automatic referral to social services, waited while the on call mental health crisis team assessed whether it was safe for her to be transferred to a ward, and waited 4 long hours for blood tests to see if the charcoal had done its job, or whether the paracetamol had got into her blood stream in enough quantity to cause damage. You wonder how on earth you will navigate it all, how things will ever be OK again. You grieve, you grieve for your child, that they felt this was the only way out. You also fight for your child when they ask you to, and vow to do whatever it takes and whatever you can to help them get better, even if that makes you unpopular. We brought her home from hospital as tentatively as we had when she was a newborn, with the same feelings of ‘now what?’
It was a day of miracles too. A Yo-Yo worker was driving past the park and saw our daughter in there. She stopped, sat with her and prayed with her, contacted us on our daughter’s phone and waited for us to arrive. This meant she got prompt treatment, and the paracetamol had not got into her bloodstream preventing long term effects. The worst day of our lives could so easily have been even worse. There have been many other positives to come out of such a desperate situation; a genuine respect between us and our daughter, a deep, close bond that was there but is now so strong, an intense love that knows no limits. We have seen in her courage beyond her years, and a determination to get better that makes us so incredibly proud, strength we’ve never seen in her before.
Telling our story has a purpose – to be a voice for those in school with mental health difficulties, to raise awareness, to tell her story so that others with similar struggles don’t think ending their life is the only escape. We missed the signs at home. Yes, we knew that she was struggling; we knew that she was ill, but we did not know she was planning to take her life. We have learned a huge amount about her, about teenage mental health, about what the signs were that we missed.
- There were signs at school too that she was ill. Low self-esteem.
- Panic when asked to work in a group or a pair.
- Such great tiredness caused by a lack of ability to switch off at night which exacerbated difficulties the anxiety caused with motivation, organization and concentration.
- A tendency to overthink everything. Snappy responses to teachers when she was feeling overwhelmed or very anxious leading to comments about her attitude.
- Faking a note in her planner so she didn’t have to do PE, not because she is a liar but because of not wanting people to see where she had taken out her anxiety, pain and frustration on herself by cutting her legs.
- Being unable to shake off even the slightest criticism from a teacher but instead churning it over and taking it as proof that she was stupid and no one liked her.
- Regularly eating lunch in the toilets because she felt so alone.
Parents evenings became a thing to dread. They consisted of us saying our daughter is anxious, struggling with self-esteem and feels stupid, and teachers telling us our daughter doesn’t concentrate and isn’t achieving her potential.
It took a ‘nearly suicide’ for us all to realise just how poorly our daughter had become. She is now doing well. Medication is established and she is so much less anxious, her mood has improved significantly. She is happy again, talking positively about her future, is fully participating in family life and life outside school. She is bright, bubbly and gaining in confidence and beginning to believe in herself again. I don’t think you would recognise her if you bumped into her on the street. An important part of her continuing to get better means it is time for her to move on from her old school, to make a new start at another school. She is determined to succeed and we look forward to telling you good things about how she does.
But, as she moves on, there will be other children left behind who need you to help them. They need you to look at what their behaviour might be telling you and to see the struggles they are facing. I would urge you to find out more, read up, access training, and speak to us about our experience if that helps. Don’t dismiss them as ‘just another girl/boy with anxiety’ but find out their story, find out what their struggles are. Find out what helps them, find out what they find hard. Teenage depression and anxiety is real, and it’s heartbreaking, but we can make a difference through recognition of the struggles these young people face and supportive approaches to help them to get better. Dealing with teenage mental health difficulties is not just the job of the pastoral team, it’s everyone’s responsibility.