A-Z

Susan Y

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Susan’s daughter self-harmed for a short period and has developed other ways of coping with her problems. Susan would like more local, face-to-face, support for parents.
Background: Susan is a 47 year old social worker. She lives with her partner and their daughter. Ethnic background: White British.

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Susan discovered that her daughter was self-harming from a schoolteacher’s comments about her not seeming herself and having scratches on her arms. When Susan asked her daughter about the scratches she initially ‘froze’ before admitting that she had done them herself. She would not talk about her reasons for self-harming, at first, but eventually told her mum that it was because of all the pressure she felt to achieve at school and the impact of her friend’s mother dying.

Although the self-harming seems to have been short-lived, a response to an intense period in her daughter’s life, Susan has thought about it every day for over a year since she first discovered it. She decided not to tell anybody else about her daughter’s self-harming; partly because she felt guilty and ashamed about it, and also because she wanted to protect her daughter. Consequently, she has had no source of support for herself. Online support, she says, is not for her.

Susan looked for information about self-harm on the internet. She found a lot of useful information about how to understand self-harm, how to help a young person who is self-harming and about how to cope.

Susan asked the GP for a referral to CAMHS but he did not want to make that referral, saying that her daughter was not mentally ill. He simply told her that she should ‘grow up’ stop self-harming and talk to her parents. Susan, using her professional networks, made a self-referral to CAMHS and received prompt and comprehensive help for her daughter.

Susan’s daughter hasn’t self-harmed for a year, and has developed other ways of coping with problems; for example, writing a journal. Susan sees the self-harm as a way of coping at a particularly intense time in her daughter’s life, but feels that she can’t be absolutely sure that it won’t happen in the future.

Susan thinks that parents need more support and that more work should be done in schools to raise awareness about self-harm. ‘Young people need education about self-harm,’ she says, ‘in the same way they need education about drugs.’ She advises other parents not to ‘bury your head in the sand…it can happen to anybody, and if you suspect it is happening, then deal with it.’
 

Susan Y said “it just came from what felt like nowhere, that one day we were okay and then there’s this deterioration.”

Susan Y said “it just came from what felt like nowhere, that one day we were okay and then there’s this deterioration.”

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It just came. It, honestly, it just came from what felt like nowhere. That one day we were okay and then there’s this deterioration. Over the summer, summer period, absolutely fantastic, had a great time. Went back to school in September, started to withdraw a little bit, started to be a lot quieter, lost a little bit of weight but nothing that alarm bells rang. It wasn’t that she wasn’t eating. It wasn’t that she wasn’t doing anything. It was just that she were a little bit more bad tempered. She were a little short with people but she was fourteen and she was starting her GCSEs and, you know, you put up with it. Her dad blamed me because he’s saying that, you know, you know, I condoned her behaviour. I didn’t condone her behaviour, you know. She sits there sulking. I said, “She’s not sulking. She’s tired.” So I sort of justified the withdrawal for her being a teenager and saying, “Just leave her alone. She’s a teenager.” 

So I left her alone and then that’s sort of what happened and then I sort of started looking at the music she listens to and I started getting into my head that it’s to do with that oh it’s this Emo music that they’re all and actually, you know, she’s done a presentation at school. So something is said to somebody, she’s picked up on something somewhere or somebody said something because she had to do a presentation at assembly and she did it on the stereotypical types of music and what people perceive and I thought, “You’ve picked up on something somewhere.” That’s her way of getting it out and, you know, I know her really well. 

But the reality is there wasn’t anything, that nothing caused it in the sense she listened to her music and thought it. What gets me is where they get the idea from? How do they know about it? Where do they get that idea from? How do they know about it? Where do they even get that idea from to think, that’s what I’ll do? But then it’s all over the internet, isn’t it, and it’s all over, it’s out there. So but no, there was nothing. 
 

Susan Y’s daughter was asked to befriend a group of pupils who were self-harming. Susan worries about the impact this has on her.

Susan Y’s daughter was asked to befriend a group of pupils who were self-harming. Susan worries about the impact this has on her.

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I started to do a lot of research into self-harming myself and tried to understand it myself and I listened to a lot of young people’s blogs online and things like that and I concluded really partly myself, is actually it is to do with the pressure and a release mechanism. But they were putting her, school were, because she is a very sensible girl and because she’s a caring girl, what they’d done is they’d asked her to sort of befriend other young people in the school that didn’t have any friends, so she was sort of take, “Come on, come for lunch with me.” 

And it transpired that there was a number of people in the school that were self-harming, that there were a number of them that were in this group and she’d become part of, and I’m not saying and I’m not blaming any other young person whatsoever, she, whatever is the choice she made to choose to do that on that day and over those days for whatever reason to release what were needed to be released. But the other young people, nobody knew about and nobody found out about, so she was taking on their burdens and they were confiding in her to do it and she didn’t want to break their confidence. 

These other friends are still doing it. She took a teacher, she took a friend to a teacher the other day because she’d cut her fingers. Yet I just feel the school aren’t dealing with it as a as a problem in the school, not because I think there’s some, you know, cult or anything in the school, I just think the way the school is and the expectations and the pressure and all of that and it’s, there’s a number of people in her year doing it. Which is interesting because it’s not the group that she’s part of. So I thought, “Oh is it because they’re all in it together.” But no, it’s not. 

It’s like she’s taken on now the, not the responsibility, but there’s other young people at school doing it and it’s like, but now she’s talking about it. Now she’ll come home and tell me that somebody else is doing it, that she’s told a teacher and that’s, and I’m able now to say, “Well, that’s their responsibility. You’ve informed who you need to inform. This is not your responsibility.” And I’ve sort of done the work. So at times at times, it’s really hard because I’m like all the time because it’s still very, although she’s not involved in the behaviour anymore, the issues are still there. The reality of other people doing it are still there so I am sort of talking and every day about how she can manage this for her friends really and how the thoughts of it impacts upon her 
 

Susan Y’s family avoided socialising, partly to protect their daughter but also to protect themselves.

Susan Y’s family avoided socialising, partly to protect their daughter but also to protect themselves.

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So we didn’t want to go out. So we didn’t go out. We kept ourselves to ourselves. We didn’t go to see family. She’s got family in London, we didn’t go to see family in London in case they found out. We didn’t have people up for Christmas in case they found out. It was like we wanted to isolate her from the wider world because of what we didn’t want them to know and part of that was because we wanted to protect her but, actually, in reality, we wanted to protect ourselves.
 

Susan Y dealt with the practical aspects of self-harm without, at first, showing her feelings. Her daughter didn’t realise she was upset.

Susan Y dealt with the practical aspects of self-harm without, at first, showing her feelings. Her daughter didn’t realise she was upset.

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She filled in a well-being questionnaire at CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service] and we had to fill one in. Her and her dad, me and her dad filled it in together and hers, when she filled it in, we were like, can’t believe she even thinks it, “Has it affected your family?” “No.” You know, and things didn’t, and it’s not like they don’t care about me, she had absolutely no insight or concept of the pain it had caused us as parents was like and then when I spoke to her about that, I said, “Well, you know, well, I was very upset, I was hurt.” She said, “Well, you didn’t come across as that. You just dealt with it.” And I thought well, then that’s about me. That’s how I deal with it, that’s how I cope, I deal with things. I needed to deal with the practicalities of it. 
 

Susan Y’s GP told her daughter to ‘grow up’ and refused to refer her to CAMHS.

Susan Y’s GP told her daughter to ‘grow up’ and refused to refer her to CAMHS.

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So I took her to the GP to get the a referral to CAMHS. Went to the GP and explained to the GP what was happening and he said, “Can I have a look at your arms.” So she showed him. By this time, I’d got her some antiseptic cream and they weren’t deep. They were superficial. They weren’t needing treatment. To what the GP turned round and said to her, “I can’t believe that you’ve done this. It’s about time you grew up. You’re immature, you know. You’re supposed to be a mature girl. You’ve got a good parent, you know. Talk to your parent and just stop attention seeking.” And he said, I said, “So I’d like a referral to CAMHS.” He said, “I’m not prepared to do that.” He said. “Because she’s not mentally ill and there’s a counsellor that comes to the GP surgery and he’s an elderly gentleman in his in his sixties like me.” And coming out and I said, “Oh will you make a referral there then please.” And coming out she turned round and said, “Does, he has absolutely no idea has he about young people.” And I said, “No, you’re right. He doesn’t.” 
 

Susan Y says schools should provide education about self-harm and mental health issues.

Susan Y says schools should provide education about self-harm and mental health issues.

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What I would say, back to the health professionals, is there any work that you can do with schools? Don’t, it seems to be a taboo subject still. I can’t believe how common it is, although it’s not common if you understand what I mean, but no work is being done. We go into schools and we talk about drugs and we talk about teenage pregnancies and we talk about alcohol but, actually, nobody is talking about mental health issues with young people. Nobody is going into those schools and doing seminars but these are real issues for these young people that, actually, you know, it’s not just about self-harming and cutting, there’s eating disorders. There’s all of that. Where is that in the curriculum? Where is that in terms of that whole personal, whatever it’s called, PSHE thing that they’re doing. They don’t. It’s just not talked about and I can’t believe that we’re in two thousand, coming up to two thousand and thirteen and we’re still not talking about it and that’s what I would say to the professionals out there, to the education authorities, to health authorities, please see it for real issues and do some work with these young people in these schools as part of that whole thing about drug abuse and everything like that, about where you get the help, that this is a real issue and coping strategies and the dangers of it. As opposed to just doing it about drugs. So that’s one thing I’d like to see happen.
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