Age at interview: 66
Brief Outline: Jim and his wife/partner discovered that their 14 year old daughter was self-harming a few months after she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. She is receiving treatment, compulsorily, but the disease is having a huge impact on all their lives.
Background: No details given.

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Jim and his wife discovered that their daughter was self-harming a few months after she was diagnosed with restrictive anorexia nervosa, at the age of 14. His wife read some diary entries which recorded her self-harming and her wish to stop. Her anorexia was initially disclosed to teachers by her friends. 

Jim and his wife are distressed by their daughter’s self-harming, which they see as a part of her anorexia. The effects of this disease are having a massive impact on all their lives. Their daughter has had to leave school, and is receiving treatment under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Jim or his wife visit her in hospital every day, sharing meals on the ward and sometimes taking home-cooked food as part of the therapeutic programme. 

They feel that their GP was slow to consider that anorexia was the cause of their daughter’s weight loss and to institute appropriate referrals for specialist help. They were dissatisfied with her first inpatient treatment but feel that she is now in a unit which is better suited to her needs. They are not confident, though, that there is any really effective, evidence-based treatment available. They get support from: contact with other parents of young people with eating disorders through personal meetings, email, Facebook and internet forums; email exchanges with international experts in the field of eating disorders; and from parent-led organisations such as F.E.A.S.T (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders).

They advise other parents to ‘inform yourself so that you can talk to professionals on their own terms and make intelligent choices about your child’s treatment.’ With regard to self-harm, they suggest that parents ‘try to be matter of fact about it and not make your child feel guilty. They are doing it for a reason. You have to find out why they need the comfort they get from self-harming and tackle the source, rather than blaming them or getting emotional about it. It’s better to be calmer and more matter of fact so that you can be sympathetic and supportive.’

Jim investigated ways of monitoring his daughter’s internet use.

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Jim investigated ways of monitoring his daughter’s internet use.

Yeah, yeah, so we’re never clear as to how happy we are about [our daughter] and this other child exchanging texts on a daily basis. Some of it can be hugely supportive and useful and some of it can be the opposite. But there’s nothing one can do about it. I remember very early on, because I worked in the computer business and, as you’re probably aware, there’s something called keystroke software that you can install on a computer and it will tell you absolutely everything that was done on that computer, character by character, line by line. And I thought about installing that on the computer that [my daughter] was using just to figure out, because some of the websites are just appalling and if you ever seriously look into what’s out there on the web, just so damaging. And so I went to the techies who I used to work with and they said, “Look, there’s no point because what are you going to do then? You know, you can block access to this site but they’ll always find a way round it.” I mean the ward at the moment thinks it’s blocked Facebook and You Tube but they haven’t because the girls have out-thought the security software and this is something they do standing on their heads. You wouldn’t want to be the computer administrator. You know, they’re doing their best but… so, I never did do that because, you know, my friend was quite right, what would I have learned that would have been any use to me?  

And now with smart phones, of course, and I think [my daughter] is the only girl on the ward who doesn’t have a smart phone. She says she doesn’t want one and we’re very happy about that because one wouldn’t, they’re off in corners, you know, Facebooking and so on and Christ knows what’s going on. Some units, they won’t allow them phones, won’t allow them smart phones. But it’s a fine line because some of the stuff is genuinely supportive and useful. So, it’s a two-edged sword and I think that one just has to accept that they come from a generation where they assume electronic communication. They assume Facebook. They assume My Space. They assume sites that I’ve never even heard of, you know, places they go for music just so, yeah, I suppose one just has to has to come to terms with one’s own misgivings and just hope that the pluses outweigh the minuses.
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