A-Z

Sarah Z

Age at interview: 48
Brief Outline: Sarah’s older daughter started cutting herself when she was 14. Sarah found this completely unexpected and frightening. Her daughter has been helped by the school nurse and a private psychologist.
Background: Sarah, 48, is married with three children. She works part-time and is self-employed. Ethnic background: White British.

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Sarah describes her older daughter as a delightful, lovely child who changed when she was fourteen into a sad, moody, introspective person. She had moved into the senior school where she behaved in an angry, attention seeking manner. She started pushing some of her friends away and had a troubled relationship with a boy who was an Emo and encouraged a dark outlook on life. One night Sarah’s daughter called Childline saying she was going to harm herself and the police came to the house, although by then she was asleep and had not hurt herself. Soon after this Sarah noticed scratches on her daughter’s arms. She says this was horrible and frightening as she had no previous experience of self-harm. Sarah was reluctant to go through her GP as she did not want her daughter being labelled, and she wanted to get practical help straight away. She consulted the school nurse, who was very helpful and put Sarah in touch with a private psychologist. Sarah says it was good for her daughter to be able to talk privately to someone she had confidence in; Sarah herself felt she was included as much as she needed to be in her daughter’s treatment. Her daughter is now much happier and has not harmed herself for several months, although Sarah is worried that she may revert to self-cutting if things go wrong. 

Sarah has always had a good relationship with her daughter, so found it difficult when she did not want to talk about her problems. They set up a diary system whereby if Sarah’s daughter was feeling unhappy or tempted to self harm, she would write this down and leave the diary on her mother’s pillow. The family also devised some useful distraction techniques, including giving her a bag full of different gloves which she had to put on in order if she felt like harming herself.

Sarah’s daughter’s self harm has had a big impact on the family. All three children go to the same school, and Sarah’s younger daughter, who hates any kind of attention or fuss, is uncomfortable when other children ask her about her sister’s visible wounds. Sarah and her husband are reluctant to leave their daughter alone so they think twice about going out for an evening or an overnight stay. All the family find it hard to understand the behaviour. Sarah says her husband finds this particularly difficult and copes by ignoring it as much as he can, although he is a very loving father and their daughter knows he is supportive. 

Sarah hasn’t talked to many people about her daughter’s self-harm, partly because it’s embarrassing and she feels there’s an implication of failure as a parent, but she has some really good friends who have been very supportive. One of her friends is a GP, who reassured her that as her daughter has had a good start in life she is likely to get over the self-harming behaviour and return to being well in future. Sarah finds this very comforting. She started looking on the internet for information about self-harm, but found many gloomy and depressing forums which did not offer any constructive advice and made her feel worse. At one point she telephoned Parentline when she needed to talk to someone, and found this a very positive experience. 

Sarah would have liked more accessible information about self-harm, and resources with practical guidance about what is helpful, and what is likely to happen if you consult your GP, including how you will be treated as a family and the implications for other children. She says it would be useful to hear about other people’s experiences, and to know that children do get past this – ‘to give you a bit of hope from the depths of despair’.
 

Sarah Z thinks her daughter was influenced by her ‘Emo’ boyfriend

Sarah Z thinks her daughter was influenced by her ‘Emo’ boyfriend

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And so, when it started, was there anything else going on at that time?

Yes, there was… She’s had a funny time at school, since going into the into the senior school and she was very, very happy in the junior school, lots of friends. Senior school, she started pushing some of her friends away but also taking up with boys and her first boyfriend was quite a troubled character himself. And I think they sort of egged each other on. He was definitely, I think he would call himself an Emo and he sort of introduced [my daughter] I think, all teenagers are a bit prone to this I think. I think I was, you know, you sort of grab hold of an idea and a whole the music and the look and it was all very, very dark and very, very gloomy and their sort of relationship was a bit like that. He was quite an unhappy boy and they seemed to sort of encourage each other, in a way, to be unhappy but [my daughter] was very, very, very keen on him and he wasn’t very nice to her and I think, although I’d never blame him, but I think that that set of circumstances probably is what put her in such a gloomy place, presumably, alongside, you know, the hormones and everything else that’s kicking in at that age.
 

Sarah Z’s daughter let her parents know how she was feeling by writing in a shared diary.

Sarah Z’s daughter let her parents know how she was feeling by writing in a shared diary.

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But she can’t she can’t talk about it. Oh, I mean we did, we had, over the year, come up with a number of ways to try and get communication between us going because she is oh, well, she’s a lovely, easy girl really and we’ve always had a really good relationship so that’s been very difficult, not speaking about it. But we, so we set up a diary system and, which we call secret squirrel, and if she was feeling unhappy or feeling like she might self-harm or anything really, she wrote it down and she’d leave it on my pillow.

And then I’d reply so we’d be having a conversation effectively, but she obviously found it much easier to do it that way. She writes really well so she enjoys writing so I think it was much easier than talking.
 

Sarah Z was reluctant to approach her GP for help.

Sarah Z was reluctant to approach her GP for help.

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And is there any support that you would like that you haven’t had?

I think information. I think I think information and a greater degree of confidence in in the medical services because I think that I should have gone through my GP. I think that should be the way that you get help with things like this and I think I should have been able to feel that they would know enough about it to be helpful.

Yes.

And I didn’t feel that. I felt quite cynical about it and I don’t know whether that was justified or not but I suspect it was and I just thought I thought it was better to go to somebody who I did know, had experience with, which is how we ended up with a, you know, a child psychologist.

But it, no, it would be, it would have been great, still would be great because we’re not out of it, you know, we’re in a better place at the moment but I’m sure it hasn’t left altogether. I think it would be fantastic to have more accessible resources, which might give practical guidance, you know, about what does help.

And whether, you know, what happens if you do go to your GP, what will happen, you know. Who will they be referred to and how will you be treated as a family? You know, what are the implications for the other children?
 

Sarah Z’s family didn’t understand her daughter’s self-harm. It was difficult for her brother and sister when they were asked about it at school.

Sarah Z’s family didn’t understand her daughter’s self-harm. It was difficult for her brother and sister when they were asked about it at school.

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I think it’s I think it’s had a really big impact. It’s thrown us all. It’s I’m really conscious of the other children. She’s got an older brother and a younger sister and they’re all chalk and cheese. They’re so different from each other but it’s been horrible for them, particularly for her younger sister, who is completely different and really sensitive and hates any kind of attention or fuss. 

And, obviously, this kind of behaviour brings attention and fuss and also, you know, it’s very difficult because despite the fact that they have all the normal sibling kind of squabbles and everything, they’re quite close in age and, obviously, they’re fond of each other and it’s horrible, really horrible to see somebody hurting themselves and have no idea why they’re doing it or, you know, why we can’t stop her doing it and why, you know, why she’s that unhappy in an apparently, perfectly normal family, you know, but with nothing really to make her that unhappy that they can see. So it’s very confusing for the children the other children and also for my husband and I because we don’t know anything about it, you know. We don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t know how to cope with it. We, even more so my husband actually, it just doesn’t, understand it at all so and when you don’t understand something that much, it makes it almost impossible to do anything to help really.

So you tend to sort of ignore it as much as you can, which is really unhelpful. Doesn’t work, so and it’s had a big impact because all the children go to the same school and there’s no hiding that that kind of self-harm. It’s on, you know, it’s on [my daughter], on her arms and and it was on her legs as well. She did she did do it on her legs too. So she’d still be doing sport and she’d be doing, playing in, she was quite sporty, she’d be playing in netball matches or whatever in her sports short skirt, and with her short sleeves on and, you know, she’s covered in in cuts and so people know that, you know, you can’t hide it. And it’s that’s difficult for her brother and sister too, you know, because children being children will ask, generally they’re nice, but they’ll ask questions. They’ll want to know what’s happening and, you know, they don’t really know how to answer so it puts them in the spotlight a bit too at school.
 

Sarah Z phoned a helpline when she was ‘utterly miserable’.

Sarah Z phoned a helpline when she was ‘utterly miserable’.

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I did have one very positive experience because after a good after a good patch, [my daughter] then self-harmed and the school, I think it was because she’d self-harmed, she’d had some issue at school and she’d gone to the school nurse and the nurse phoned me up and said she had self-harmed. So she, “Did you know?” And I said, “No, I didn’t know.” And it was awful and so sad and so depressing and I was just utterly miserable and I phoned up, you’re going to want to know who it was and I don’t know, I just looked up a number on the internet, well, maybe it was Parent Line or something.

Does that exist?

Yes, yes.

I think I might have gone via Child Line and to somewhere and I phoned them up and because just because, you know, I wanted to talk to someone and they were fantastic and I just cried at them really and they said, you know, they were good. They said it’s not it’s not the worst, you know, it’s not the worst things they’ve heard by a long way and to, you know, it would be all right.

So that was helpful and…?

It really, yes, it really was. I think I think my husband was away. He travels a bit. I think he was away so I felt really on my own. I’d have never imagined phoning up a helpline [laughs] a couple of years ago. There you go, they obviously seem to serve a purpose.
 

Sarah Z thought her daughter’s state of mind was much better, but she worried that her daughter might harm herself again if things went wrong.

Sarah Z thought her daughter’s state of mind was much better, but she worried that her daughter might harm herself again if things went wrong.

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We ended up getting a psychologist involved, via the school, who saw her privately, and she was enormously helpful but and did a lot of assessment of [my daughter] and her of [my daughter] and her general sort of mental health and well-being and, which obviously also covered the self-harm. And she probably was the biggest helping factor in getting to the point where we are now, where [my daughter’s] state of mind is much better. She’s much more like old [daughter’s name], mostly. She hasn’t, as far as I know, self-harmed for maybe two or three months but this has happened before and we’ve thought that she’s past it and over that and then something will go wrong. She she’ll fall out with a friend or she’ll have a, you know, a boyfriend issue, which sadly she seems to want boyfriends and it always causes problems [laughs].

So but something like that might set her off again and then it will come back and then it’s awful when that happens, because you think she’s moved on.
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