Battling a false body image
#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek: The fourth in our series of anonymous blogs, this time from the perspective of a parent.
Warning: contains content that some people might find upsetting
My daughter was 15 when she first tried to commit suicide. I felt such a failure as I sat in the waiting room of the hospital. I sat thinking about everything I could have done differently to stop this from happening.
I was angry with the school for not listening to her cries for help about bullying. I felt frustrated for not recognising that her declining grades, frequent days of sick and using me as a verbal punch bag had been a plea for intervention. I’d wrongly thought it was normal growing up stuff – a hormonal teenager rebelling to find her voice. The school had reacted with ‘helpful’ advice - “sticks and stones”, “find new friends” “ignore them” – their basic advice was for her to “man-up”.
I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to and I was worried about what people would think of me as a parent. One thing I did know was that this wasn’t something I could talk to anybody about without being overly emotional. The next day I went back to work. I also felt I had to ‘man-up’
The hospital referred her to our local CAMHs Service where she had a great person who helped support her through the difficult decision of going on medication and sitting in fraught meetings with the school who had no idea how to deal with a child with mental health problems. There was no flexibility available in the school system to support her to get better so we made the difficult decision of hiring a tutor and home-schooling her.
As a parent I had an overwhelming urge to try and find a solution. Nothing I said seemed to be right. How could I fix this? Although CAMHs had support for my daughter, as parents there was no guidance. I wanted somebody to come and tell me what would work, share my feelings with other parents who had been through the same thing. Instead we carried on behind closed doors using trial and error, hoping that what we were doing was the right thing. It was at this time that my GP prescribed me with anti-depressants too.
Following GCSEs, work commitments led us to move a few miles across the border into the next county. My daughter had started to go to the local college and had made new friends, but the move meant we lost our CAMHs support. Feeling ‘better’ she decided to stop taking her medication. Whilst waiting for new support she started to relapse and a few months later she tried to take her own life again.
My reaction was to try and find out anything and everything we could on the internet on what to do to support her. This second attempt triggered local CAMHs support and a course of CBT as well as a new course of medication. I started to actively make sure she took her pills. She had lost the support of her new friends and our life had suddenly become very isolated. Her anxieties about what she looked like and what people thought about her had become all consuming. Most days she couldn’t come out of her room. The most important lesson that I learnt was, as parents we don’t need to have all of the answers, most of the time we just need to listen. The experience has made me more open and compassionate. I’m happy to be a listening ear to anyone that I feel is in difficulty.
I would never have thought that my daughter would be this concerned about what people think. But how can I be surprised. Her generation spends most of their time being bombarded with a completely screwed up and false idea of what “perfect” looks like and why they should be aiming for it. Airbrushed pictures and selfies on social media, mobile phones that edit your pictures for you. Everything is creating a false body image and it follows them around most of the day, with people judging everything you say and do.
Supporting a suicidal child changes your parenting perspective about what you want for them – I’m thankful for everyday. I’m happy to be her parent, her supporter, her friend and her punch bag as long as I’m doing whatever I can to help her become more resilient and happier and take her steps towards independence. How she gets there isn’t relevant anymore. Of course, it means making changes in your life, but who wouldn’t do that for their children. I just wish there was more support for families to help them through it. At the moment, my daughter is doing ok – and I’m so proud of her.
What I would like to see...
- Immiediate support for Parents and Families - the speed of recovery relies so much on the understanding of people around them
- Banning of Social media and Mobile phones for people under 18 - peer pressure is a powerful thing and without the support of legislation parents are fighting a losing battle to keep their children away from it before they're emotionally intelligent enough to deal with it.