A mother's story: dealing with a child's self-harm and depression
My name is Emma. My son is called David. He is 14 years old. He was born in 1997 after seven and a half hours in labour and weighed a rather healthy 7lb 15oz. His development was fairly uneventful, apart from constant croup until the age of 6 and two bouts of bronchiolitis at 9 months and 12 months: he was a pretty healthy lad.
David started pre-school at two and a half. He seemed to start acting a bit odd then. I put it down to him being an Aries and somewhat strong-willed. He wouldn't do anything he didn’t want to and he could often be found standing on his head in the book corner, preferring to play alone. At home he could often be found upside down on the sofa watching TV.
By the time he started at infant school, things seemed to have settled down, but as he got to Year 2 his behaviour seemed to be changing again. He told me he felt increasingly bullied, but the school's investigation turned up nothing. His tutor said that felt he was showing signs of Asperger's but that he could not be tested until he was seven.
So off to junior school he went, and he went noticeably downhill from there. His tutor hadn't seen behaviour like David's and put it down to attention-seeking.
We went to three social occasions, and I noticed that David hid under a table rather than come out: he didn't like being around people. He was rude and outspoken and was having quite a few tantrums. He couldn't seem to control himself and would sometimes have these horrid rages, and I had no idea what to do; I had no idea what I was working with. I liaised with the junior school Senco to try and get help for my son, but she seemed just as baffled as I was. I recall that they had a lady come in and try to get him to talk about how he felt. I know I took him to see a play therapist at my own expense but he didn't like her and said she was scary, so we stopped going because I didn't want to make things worse.
By the time David was in Year 6 he was drawing pictures of killing himself and writing that he wished he was dead and "kill me". He even made a playdoh man that he then stabbed with a plastic knife. He was clearly crying out for help but no one seemed to want to take responsibility for him as he wasn't typical in any special needs area. He was tested for dyslexia and I think he was tested for ASD but he was borderline on both. It was all very unhelpful.
I knew I had to find a senior school that would accommodate my son's "quirky" behaviour and having had a school recommended I went to see it and was quite pleased and satisfied that their special needs department would perhaps help David (he was on school action plus with the juniors, so some help was in place but with no clear diagnosis of anything what could be done).
I was so proud of David; he tried so hard to cope. He struggled at school every day, often ringing me in an incredibly distressed state. He would come home and go to his room and headbutt the floor or the wall and he started to barricade himself into his room. Again, I asked the school for help. I know we went to the family GP and they referred us to a paediatrician who couldn't find anything wrong. Eventually we were referred to CAMHS where we saw a social worker and a psychiatric nurse. We attended religiously in an attempt get help even though neither David nor I liked the social worker.
Eventually, just over halfway through Year 7, I got a phone call asking me to go and pick David up as he was attempting to self-harm. I was told that this was distressing other students as well as staff and that an emergency appointment had been made for him to see a psychiatrist that afternoon.
I was by now at my wits' end. What could I do for my son? Why was it that everyone was passing the buck? Why did we have no answers to so many questions?
David performed true to form, hiding under the chair, biting his arm and headbutting the floor. "Please help us,” I pleaded with the psychiatrist.
He said that he was signing David off school as he was a danger to himself and others.
I said to him, "Can you not prescribe him something to help him, Please. Look at him, he's not coping and neither am I, is there nothing we can try?"
The doctor wasn't keen but eventually prescribed 10ml of Prozac syrup to be taken once a day. I could have kissed him; I felt relief that this could be the buoyancy aid he needed to help keep him afloat.
But I also grieved the fact that my 12-year-old son had just been diagnosed with depression. My heart broke for him. My heart broke for me. The guilt was almost unbearable as I blamed myself and my own history of mental health as the reason for my boy having struggled for the past five years in mainstream school.
I had to see my own doctor. I was signed off sick from work as my depression kicked in along with an inability to cope with trying to home-tutor David, his tantrums and general low moods. We were a right pair of Eeyores.
That was in the April. By the September I was feeling stronger; however, I couldn't return to work as David wasn't to be left unsupervised. I couldn't claim any benefits as I was fit to work so couldn't get a sick note, but was unable to work as I had to care for my son. There was no benefit available for us to live on. I had to go onto Jobseeker's Allowance and hope that I did not find a job until my son was better and/or back in school.
We were offered a home tutor for David, which didn't start too well. David already hated school and anything connected to it, but he had an amazing tutor, Paul. The plan was to get David to go with Paul and do their lessons as he didn’t want to either leave the house or be away from me to start with. It was a slow process but it was achieved. The next step after David got an educational statement was to get him to do his lessons at school and slowly integrate him into school life and routine once more. This took six months to get him from part-time to full-time just before the start of the summer holidays.
So back in September my son was back to full time learning. I was very proud of him again. He attends a local special school and is doing very well there. He stopped taking the Prozac some time ago. He said he didn’t like taking it and that he doesn’t need it. He understands he has depression and that it makes him different but I feel he accepts himself for who he is.
If you're concerned about your child, the YoungMinds Parents’ Helpline offers free confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25.