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Erica

Age at interview: 48
Brief Outline: Erica’s younger daughter took a serious overdose when she was 14 and spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Erica says ‘never, ever give up on your children’.
Background: Erica, age 48, is divorced with two daughters age 20 and 17. She works as an administrator in children’s social care. Ethnic background: White European.

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Erica thought her younger daughter was becoming depressed when she was 13, shortly after Erica and her husband had separated. When she was 14 her GP suggested counselling, but a few days later she collapsed after taking a serious overdose. She had broken up with her boyfriend and was unhappy at a new school. Erica later found out that during this time her daughter had psychotic episodes where she saw a dead version of herself and heard voices telling her to kill herself. She had been collecting tablets for some time, and had planned her funeral. She left a text for Erica telling her she loved her, and not to blame herself. Erica was completely shocked.

Erica went with her daughter to the hospital where she was told she only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. The doctors and nurses were fantastic, and her daughter was moved from intensive care to the adolescent ward. Erica’s daughter was very angry with Erica for not letting her die. She was discharged into the care of the CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) team and went back to school part-time. Then the mother of her daughter’s ex-boyfriend told Erica that her daughter had texted him ‘If something fails, try and try again until you succeed’. Erica immediately contacted the care team, and her daughter was admitted to a psychiatric unit. Erica says she felt her world had been turned upside down. She was partly relieved because she was no longer responsible and professionals were looking after her daughter, but also devastated that she had to leave her child.

The care team decided that Erica’s daughter should go home in the evenings. Erica doesn’t know why, but she is very glad now, because she really got to know her daughter during this time. Erica describes awful nights where she was sleeping on the floor next to her daughter, who was having frightening psychotic hallucinations. She showed Erica burn marks which she said had been made by the dead version of herself. Erica says the hospital staff were very supportive and rang her regularly through the night to advise her what to do. Her daughter was discharged from day patient care after three months, but Erica went on sleeping beside her for nine months as she was still worried about what she might do. This happened about three and a half years ago. Her daughter is still in the care of CAMHS. She has taken two minor overdoses and cuts her arms, but is now back in school and doing really well.

Erica has nothing but praise for all the professionals who were involved with her daughter’s care. She appreciated the general hospital staff’s honesty in telling her the truth, and treating her daughter with dignity. The inpatient unit staff established a rapport with her, and Erica says they saved her life several times over. Erica had her own support worker and felt very ‘held’ and included in her daughter’s care. Although she does not ask about her daughter’s individual therapy she can always discuss issues with the care coordinator. Her daughter found Dialectical Behaviour Therapy very helpful as she was taught practical techniques for dealing with her thoughts and emotions. Erica was cross with the first GPs who saw her daughter as she felt they didn’t listen, but the GP who identified the depression was ‘amazing’. The two schools her daughter attended during the course of her illness were both very supportive, as was Erica’s employer, who let her have time off and work at home when necessary. Erica’s social life was limited by her need to be with her daughter.

Erica’s elder daughter was very upset but coped well, though she is now suffering from depression and Erica thinks her needs may have been overlooked. Her half-sister was very supportive and joined them for family therapy. Erica wanted to protect her elderly parents who were shocked and distraught, but they were also very supportive. Erica had lost contact with her sister, but she got in touch immediately and has remained in touch ever since. Erica says the family have been brought much more together.

Erica thinks there may be a genetic predisposition to depression in her family, as her father, grandfather, and Erica herself have all been depressed.

It’s hard for Erica to think of the future. She thinks her daughter will be okay and go on to university, but she feels that she herself is stuck in the trauma. She still has flashbacks of the events. She says her role has been looking after her girl, and when she doesn’t have that, she’ll have nothing, but then part of her says ‘don’t be stupid, you need to move on’. 

Erica would have liked to talk to other parents who had similar experiences and is hoping to set up a parents group in collaboration with the CAMHS. She advises clinicians to be on the children’s side, and to involve their families. To parents she says ‘Never ever give up on your children, even when they’re saying horrible things to you…They’re trying to push you away and if you walk away you’ll be proving them right. If you refuse to budge that gives them a sense of security and a sense of safety that they desperately need.’ She also says parents should trust the professionals because they know what they’re doing.
 

Erica’s daughter heard voices telling her to kill herself.

Erica’s daughter heard voices telling her to kill herself.

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But I remember one particular night where she had a terrible psychotic episode. She wasn’t psychotic but she was having psychotic episodes. What it transpired that before she’d overdosed, she had been hearing voices.

Right.

And seeing a dead version of her telling her that she was coming to get her.

And the voices were telling her to kill herself but, when she was in the hospital, one of the nights she came back home and she was screaming in the car. It took me half an hour to get her out of the car in to the front door and [sighs] and all I remember was the kindness of some neighbours who passed by.

Yes.

And they didn’t know and they said, “Do you need a hand?” [laughs]. I said, “No, no. It’s all under control.” [laughs]. And by then they said, “Do you want us to call somebody?” And I said, “Actually, I’m on the phone to the hospital.” Which I was.

“But thank you.” And it was so kind because they could have run a mile and they didn’t. That was a bad evening because she was screaming and screaming and she’s saying, “She’s there.” And it was this dead version of herself, “And she’s coming to get me.” And I had to be physically very close to her and saying, “She’s not coming to get you.” And she said, “Actually, she is. Look, she already has.” And she lifted up her sleeve and she had huge burn marks there and she said, “Look. She’s done that.” And she carried on like that for quite a few hours and I was on the phone to the hospital and I think, with hindsight, they were very good keeping those strict boundaries because they was saying, “We can’t have her here tonight. She has to be with you. She has to be at home. She has to learn that she’s at home.”
 

Erica wanted to keep her daughter safe from harmful text messages.

Erica wanted to keep her daughter safe from harmful text messages.

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And you were saying that there were Facebook things that were also…?

I don’t know. I know that. Some, I wasn’t allowing her on Facebook because of, oh I think at the time actually, it was MSN they were using more than Facebook, because of what other people might say. I didn’t want, I don’t know. I suppose I wanted to keep her safe. I didn’t want other people having a go at her. I know that some are, people at school have been particularly vicious to her because she was dressing so in black and she was saying, “Oh, you’re an EMO.” Which is…

Yes, I know.

And, “Why don’t you or let’s see if you’ve got cuts.” And looking at her arms, which, she didn’t have cuts then, and, “Why don’t you go off and kill yourself?” So she obliged them, and I think it’s those people, I didn’t want her and I still don’t want her, to have anything to do with.
 

When her daughter collapsed Erica realised that she had taken an overdose.

When her daughter collapsed Erica realised that she had taken an overdose.

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I’ll start at the beginning, it’s a long story but I’ll start at the beginning. My daughter was first taken ill when she was fourteen and it was totally out of the blue as far as myself and other family members were concerned. In the six months leading up to the big incident, I thought she was getting a bit depressed and I’d taken her to the GP for, you know, just some advice. And but she was thirteen and so I was thinking, “Well, there’s hormones kicking in. She’s coming into an adolescent phase.”

“It’s not easy.” Her dad and I had recently separated so there was a lot going on [sighs]. I took her to the GP for the third time over the previous several months. And at that point that GP said, “I think you’re depressed and I think you need counselling.” So I thought, okay. We’re getting somewhere but two days later or a few days later, it just all came to a huge head because she overdosed and she was just fourteen and she took, what the A and E consultant defined as, a massive overdose. What transpired later is that she had planned this for some time for quite a number of weeks and over the weeks and months she had squirreled away a huge number of tablets.

Both from my house and her dad’s house. And things came to a halt one afternoon. She’d broken up with her boyfriend. She’d had a row with him on the phone and that afternoon, I came back from work and she wasn’t home and I called her and she was coming back late from school. And she got to the house and she went straight in her room and she was very uncommunicative. She was dressed all in black. She had lots of black make-up on. She had a black hoodie and the hood was on and she wasn’t saying very much. I heard her arguing with somebody on the phone. I went in her bedroom, to pick up some washing I think, and there she was hunched up at her desk, hoodie on, very hunched up, looking very black, very quiet and I said, “Are you okay?” And she said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m okay. I’m fine.” 

It was half past six, seven, half past seven so I went back to the kitchen, prepared dinner, continued to prepare dinner. She came in the kitchen a couple of times to take two glasses of water, of milk and she came once and then she came again and she was talking to me. She was saying, you know, “What are you preparing for dinner?” So I told her and she said, “Oh good. That’s my favourite.” And we sat up, myself, her and her sister, at the dinner table and within a few minutes she got up and she went on the sofa and I was a bit angry with her for getting off the dinner table [laughs]. I was saying, stupid things like, “You must eat your greens. At least eat your greens.” Sorry, I know this is huge detail but it’s how it’s.

No, it’s fine.

It’s stuck in my mind. And then she started behaving oddly. Her speech was slurred and she tried to get up but she couldn’t. So I got I got rather scared, at that point. Because she had been on holiday a few weeks before and she had passed out, we thought maybe she needed her heart checking so she actually was waiting for a cardiologist’s appointment so, at that point, I thought, “Well, something is going wrong with her heart.” So she became very ill very quickly, losing consciousness and fitting. She was on the floor and she was having a huge fit so, of course, dial nine nine nine.

Yes.

Call an ambulance and they came round immediately. One moment they weren’t there, one moment they were there. And they said they said, “Has she taken any drugs?” I’m like, I went, typical I think, parent response, “No, my daughter doesn’t do drugs.” But we found within a few minutes, empty blister packs in her room and, at that point, I realised that she had overdosed.
 

Erica’s wider family were brought together when her daughter self-harmed.

Erica’s wider family were brought together when her daughter self-harmed.

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My parents, my daughter’s grandparents, were completely shocked and, if anything, I found myself having to protect them [sighs] from the feelings because they’re elderly and all that and they were very, very, very distraught. But very supportive at the same time because, when my daughter was in hospital for three months, they rang me up every single evening and they ring from abroad as well. 

They came for about a week but then they had to go back but they called me and said, “How is it going? How was your day? What did they say?” My sister, whom I’d lost touch with for various complicated reasons, she got back in touch immediately, when she heard, and she has been in touch ever since. So in a way, actually, the effect was to bring the family more together than they had been.
 

The first GP Erica saw was unhelpful, but the second was ‘amazing’.

The first GP Erica saw was unhelpful, but the second was ‘amazing’.

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And how about your GP? Is he or she supportive or?

Well, yeah, it was our GP who first spotted that she was depressed. Well, when I first took her took her to a doctor, we saw a GP twice and both times he said, “It’s her age. She’ll grow out of it.” And I can sort of understand that but actually, I was very cross by the end of it because I didn’t feel that he actually listened. 

The other GP that we saw, who was actually the GP we’re registered with because, you know, we’re registered with a health centre so we happened to see somebody but I then went to see somebody else, who I’d seen myself before, and she said, “I think you’re depressed so you need counselling.” 

But, by then, it was too late because it was a few days before she overdosed.

Yes. 

And but she was fantastic because when, apparently, she was rung up when my daughter was in intensive care to be told what happened and I was told that she was quite shocked, shocked silence at the other end. When she was discharged by the hospital, the GP rang me and said, you know, “Come and see me.” So I made an appointment but that was the day that she was then admitted to the inpatient unit and she called me again, having received a fax from the inpatient unit [sniffs]. And she was amazing, she’s been amazing throughout.

To me and to my daughter.
 

The staff in Accident and Emergency, Intensive Care and the children’s ward were excellent when Erica’s daughter was admitted after an overdose.

The staff in Accident and Emergency, Intensive Care and the children’s ward were excellent when Erica’s daughter was admitted after an overdose.

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So she was yeah, she was very ill. She was rushed to the hospital. She was in the resuscitation room for about an hour. The A and E consultant was fantastic. He was very reassuring but it was a very [sighs] very scary thing because you arrive there in the ambulance and when we got there, it was like being in an episode of Casualty with none of the entertainment value because there were six or seven doctors waiting for us.

As we arrived, as soon as we arrived, they said, “In here.” We went into the resuscitation room. I was sent back home to check what else she could have taken. I came back and by the time I’d come back, she was still in the resuscitation room. She’d been had all her clothes taken. She’d been intubated. She’d been sedated.

And she was on her way to the intensive care. I know this was completely out of the blue because I had no idea, no idea, no idea at all that she was that depressed and that she had planned to kill herself. It wasn’t, I’m not demeaning cries for help, people who overdose for cries for help because that that’s just as bad, but it wasn’t an impulse thing. She had planned it very thoroughly, very carefully and she’s a bright thing, even if I say so and she’s very determined so, when she decides to do something, she does it thoroughly. And I think all that had saved her was that we live so close to the hospital and the skill of the doctors [sighs]. Yeah. So, she was in intensive care for two days and I knew that it was going to be a very long haul back because I knew there was something seriously wrong, [sighs] psychologically, emotionally. She was discharged from intensive care after two days and, when she was first admitted between resus and intensive care, I remember asking the consultant, “How is she?” And he said he said, “The outcome is uncertain.” 

Which I’m not sure I quite grasped at the time. But I understand later that she was given a fifty fifty chance. 

Yes.

Of survival. Anyway, she’s pulled through. Discharged after two days, she went to the children’s ward. The hospital has an adolescent ward, which is really good.

And she was there for four or five days, where she was all over the place emotionally. I mean the first twenty four hours, she couldn’t speak because she had been intubated and she was very dazed and confused. When she first woke up she wondered if she’d had an emergency operation.

But the nurses were fantastic because they were very honest with her. They didn’t they didn’t hide anything. They said to her, “No, you have taken something that made you very ill.” 
 

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service worked with Erica and her daughter. Erica felt very looked after.

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service worked with Erica and her daughter. Erica felt very looked after.

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And then she was discharged from the general hospital and she was by then, taken into care by CAMHS.

Our local CAMHS and they saw her every couple of days. So she had somebody working with her and I had somebody working with me, which was brilliant [sighs]. Sorry, it goes on and on. What happened, she went back to school, which I thought was amazing.

They were trying to take her life back to normal, while seeing her very regularly and she was under the care of a psychologist as well. Yeah, they came to see her when she was in hospital and they agreed on a plan. So I felt very held by these professionals.

Very looked after. 
 

Hospital staff were ‘quite amazing’ when Erica’s daughter had a crisis.

Hospital staff were ‘quite amazing’ when Erica’s daughter had a crisis.

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I was on the phone to the hospital and I think, with hindsight, they were very good keeping those strict boundaries because they was saying, “We can’t have her here tonight. She has to be with you. She has to be at home. She has to learn that she’s at home.”

Yeah.

But they were they were quite amazing because they rang me up every fifteen minutes and then they rang me up every half hour throughout the night, checking how things were going, telling me what to do and yeah. Her sister, my daughter’s sister, my other daughter, who was two years older, and so she was sixteen at the time. She was amazing too because she could have freaked out but she didn’t so we took it in turns staying physically very close to her and her sister was saying, “Look, it’s fine. I’m here. We’re here. She’s not coming to get you. We’re keeping you safe.” Yeah [sighs].

I was glad that they decided that she would be at home in the evening because by the time she was discharged, which was about three months later from the hospital, it meant that I knew who she was.

When I took her home. If I had left her there as an inpatient, I would have probably seen her once a day during visiting hours, seen her there during therapy, because we had family therapy, but I wouldn’t have really known who she was.
 

Erica’s daughter had problems with different medications but is now taking one which suits her.

Erica’s daughter had problems with different medications but is now taking one which suits her.

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So is she on medication at the moment?

She’s on medication. She was, when she was in hospital, she was on antidepressants.

They tried antipsychotic but they didn’t they didn’t agree with her at all. She’s now, she then went off antidepressants, then she was back on antidepressants, then went off antidepressants and her mood was very, very unstable so they put her on antipsychotic, not because she’s psychotic, but because as a mood stabiliser and this time they agreed with her. She’s now still on antipsychotic but we’re, she’s been decreased them. She’s coming off them so she’s coming off them very, very slowly but she’ll probably be off them by February, which is two or three months’ time. So at the moment, it’s looking good.
 

Both schools that Erica’s daughter attended were ‘amazing’ in their support of her.

Both schools that Erica’s daughter attended were ‘amazing’ in their support of her.

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And how about the school? Were they supportive?

Yeah, the school were really, really supportive. She went to a school, when she was taken ill, and they were amazing. They were really amazing. When she went back there was a, I think she was the deputy head of year, who was really on my daughter’s side and very caring for her and if she needed something, she was there for her. My daughter could come out of lessons and spend time in their room if she wanted time out. She then changed schools. She went to a small independent school, for various reasons, because she wasn’t coping at the school she was at. She was actually wasn’t so we I made the decision that she move to this other school. I feel very fortunate that there were the resources to pay for it and they’ve been amazing too. We went there. We decided not to say too much because that’s what my daughter wanted but it came to a point, because she wasn’t doing very well, where we had to explain and they’ve been hugely supportive of her too. 

And that’s partly why she’s doing so well now.
 

Erica would like to talk to other parents and hopes a support group can be set up.

Erica would like to talk to other parents and hopes a support group can be set up.

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Was there anything else that you would have liked that you didn’t have?

I think what I would have liked is more parental support. It’s very difficult, when you’re in that situation, you don’t exactly want to go and talk to other people because you’re so focussed on yourself but, as time went by, I realised, especially in the past six months or so, because there are still really hard times. There are still very, very hard evenings, very hard nights, when she gets very upset and slightly unsafe. At those times you feel you feel, “God I can’t go on. I’ve had three and a half years of this, I can’t see an end of it and I can’t go on.” At those times, it would be really nice to be able to pick up the phone and talk to somebody who knows what you’re talking about. If you talk to your friends, with all the best will in the world, and they’ve been absolutely amazing, my friends and colleagues, they really have, but their reaction is quite justifiably, “Oh my god.” When you say what happens. I have met and spoken with some other parents over the years and their reaction is, “Yes and that’s how I deal with it.” And it’s that understanding of where you’re coming from.

Yes.

So that’s what I miss and that’s what would be really nice to know that there is some sort of mutual support. 

Doesn’t have to be formal. You’re not talking about receiving counselling from somebody else, you’re talking about being able to pick up the phone and say, “I’m having a really really hard evening.” And have a chat.

Yes.

Because again, professionals, they’re wonderful, they’re amazing but they’re very professional. Quite rightly so and there isn’t that level of sympathy.

Yes.

Which you wouldn’t want anyway because you’d be crossing boundaries but you it’s.

Just to talk to somebody who’s been in the same place and really does understand it from that point of view.

Yes.

Yes.

Yeah.

So is there a chance of that being set up do you think?

Well, myself and other parents, you know, when an idea is right it seems. I contacted the CAMHS people saying, “What about this?” And they came back, saying “Actually, there are other parents saying exactly the same thing so we’re at the very initial stages of working on a parental group.” I think the support element is a little bit down the road because we have to think exactly what we want but it is about getting together and asking questions and how to find answers. And not everybody has had the positive [laughs] positive experience of professionals. Not positive experience but, you know, the good experience with professionals.

Yes, yes.

That I have had, other parents haven’t and I think that’s equally important to discuss why they feel how they feel and see where we can go with that in a non-confrontational manner.
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