Warning: Talks of suicidal ideology and self-harm
This was not a blog I had intended to start the New Year with, however, this sadly is the reality for many parents with children who struggle with their mental health.
It’s 11.39pm on 1st January 2020
Having been able to celebrate New Years Eve, for the first time in years, I was tired and should have been able to fall fast asleep after being up until the very early hours of the night before. However, there was something troubling me and preventing sleep from happening.
That something was the fact that I had a strong gut urge to take my daughter’s medication out of the kitchen cupboard and bring it into my bedroom, which then sat in the corner of my room, locked away behind my closed bedroom door.
This is the first time I’ve had such a strong urge but this had been triggered by the emotional turmoil my daughter was in that evening following yet another falling out/argument with her, so called, ‘friends’ on a group chat. The call which ultimately left her bedroom cupboard door broken (having been kicked hard) and an 11yr old yet again sobbing in my arms saying how she just wants to ‘commit suicide’!
This is sadly not a one off, but for some reason I felt compelled to keep her medication in with me, just in case.
To have to sit, listen and comfort your child whilst sobbing and saying how they want to end their life is nothing short of heart breaking!
To kiss your child goodnight and be told that ‘may be the last time’ is devastatingly worrying. Maybe this was the reason I felt compelled to take extra precautions that night.
‘Friends’ have no idea of the impact of their words. They have no idea of the damage that is caused.
Not an isolated incident
The first time my daughter ever spoke about how she wanted to end her life was shortly after she was first diagnosed with Autism/PDA. She was just seven years old when she threatened to jump out a first floor window.
There was another time, that really scared me about how much her mental health was suffering. On this occasion, following a massive meltdown, she totally broke down in my arms, pleading with me to ‘suffocate her’ as she ‘couldn’t go on for another 70yrs like this’. It literally feels like your heart has been ripped out your chest! This small person you gave birth to, truly feels she would be better off not here and there is nothing you, as the parent, can do to console her….
One actual attempt to take her own life happened when she was again just 7. We were out shopping for her sister’s birthday present. She had saved up her pocket money to buy a present, however the draw of buying herself a game was just too great. Within seconds, she felt so bad about buying something for herself rather than the intended birthday present, that she deliberately stepped out into the road and it was only my quick reaction that stopped her being hit by an oncoming car!
Over the years
Heartbreakingly, there have been many occasions, over the past four years, where my daughter feels life is just too difficult and results in not only talks of ending it all but also scarily real threats.
Another occasion that really sticks in my mind was one day when she grabbed a vegetable knife and held it to her throat. No-one had prepared me for such incidents and the only thing I could think of to say was to threaten to call the police! Thankfully it was enough to make her put the knife down as she plunged it into a box that was on the kitchen table.
Self-harming, sadly, is not uncommon either. From a young age my daughter would scratch her face, bite her arms and pull chunks of her own hair out. Be it caused by frustration, anger or indeed low self-esteem.
This, heartbreakingly, has recently progressed and last summer we had our first incident where she cut herself, drawing blood, with a piece of glass which had been smashed.
Cutting/scratching herself with drawing pins is currently a ‘go to’ and has caused multiple scars. Again, no-one had prepared me for this. I deliberated over whether or not to remove the drawing pins from her bedroom, however, rightly or wrongly, I thought this could potentially escalate further should these be removed.
What do the professionals say?
Well there’s the million dollar question!
At pretty much every CAMHS appointment, over the last 4/5 years, I get asked the same thing, “what are the risks and how am I keeping her safe?”. Because I appear to give the right answers, for example: keeping all sharps locked away, monitor mood, be hyper-vigilant etc and because my daughter is able to verbalise how she is feeling, there appears not much else that can be done. Yes, at the end of each appointment I am reminded that there is the Crisis Team to call or to go to A&E if necessary, but neither of this offers any support or help, to either myself or my daughter, in the moment.
There have been no practical strategies or advice provided to help me deal with this, no advice on what best to say or do and to be honest, in the moment, I am often just winging it in the hope that I can comfort and talk her round.
At the end of my most recent Specialist conference call, it was reiterated that she ‘continues to be high risk’ of suicide, not because of any actual physical attempt to take her own life, but ‘because of her profile’. Okay, it’s not what any parent likes to hear and however difficult that is to truly acknowledge, how does that actually help us?
What’s new for 2020?
Most people are starting the New Year with resolutions like ‘go back to the gym’, ‘lose weight’, ‘drink less’ etc but parents of children with additional needs, and particularly parents of children with mental health conditions, can only dream about have such resolutions. Instead, we are left contemplating ‘how can we help our child more?’, ‘what else do I need to put in place to keep my child safe?’. Last night, for me, it was sleeping with her medication.
This isn’t your average parental hopes and dreams at the beginning of a new year, but this is, sadly, for many of us, our reality.
Where to go for help?
Here are some useful National UK numbers:
If you or someone you know is experiencing a personal crisis and in urgent need of help: Text ‘Shout’ to 85258
For a young person in urgent need of help: Text ‘YM’ to 85258
Non urgent Parents Helpline (available Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm): 0808 802 5544
Outside of Parents Helpline hours, online contact form: https://youngminds.org.uk/contact-us/parents-helpline-enquiries/