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Ask a Professional: Keeping strong when my teen has attempted suicide

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Ask a Professional: Keeping strong when my teen has attempted suicide

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Ask a Professional: Keeping strong when my teen has attempted suicide

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My only child, 13 year old took an overdose 3 weeks ago and ended up in ED. I found the note and the tablets.

She is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ODD and an eating disorder. I work at our local school and at the beginning of the year we transferred to the only other school in our town. She spent a couple of weeks in an adolescent mental health unit last year and is under CAMHS and a psychiatrist.

Today we have found out she has been finally accepted to another facility on Monday.

I have almost exhausted all my leave and it looks like I will now need to take more leave for this term. I am starting to really struggle to cope. I am seeing a gp,on medication but I am starting to feel effects on my body from all of the stress and worry. I am even considering home schooling to reduce our school fees and allow her time to develop her strength and resilience.

I am seeking support from others who have had this experience and can recall strategies that helped you cope. I need to be strong for my girl and I am petrified of falling down myself.


Dear @Harleydog

It sounds like you have been incredibly strong for your daughter, and that it has been quite a journey to get her accepted into a facility. No wonder you are feeling the effects from the stress and the worry.

Although I can’t speak from a lived experience perspective, I did want to respond to provide some support.

It’s clear from your post that you are very motivated to look after your daughter, and when I speak to parents who are very focused on their children, sometimes they may struggle to do things to look after themselves. This is really understandable - there are only so many hours in the day. However, it’s really important to take opportunities to look after yourself as well, because that can give you the energy to be able to keep looking after her.

It’s great that you are seeing your GP, and I hope the medication you are on has been helpful for you. When it comes to dealing with ongoing stress, medication can be helpful, but it can’t do everything - self-care is also very important when it comes to managing stress. This includes things like eating regular meals, getting enough sleep and getting some exercise, but it also includes taking time to do things you find relaxing or enjoyable (even if it is only for a few minutes).

Sometimes parents will tell me that they struggle to take this time to look after themselves, and part of this is for practical reasons, but also sometimes it’s because it feels like they shouldn’t prioritize doing ‘fun’ things for themselves when their child is sick. But, doing these things is what recharges your batteries and helps you to be able to look after others.

While your daughter is receiving inpatient care, this can actually be a good time to take a moment to focus on your needs, since she is receiving professional support right now.

If you have family and friends you can reach out to, I encourage you to talk to them. You may or may not want to talk through what’s happening with your daughter, but even just having a cup of coffee and a chat can help provide a sense of connection which can help break down the sense of isolation that is so common when someone is looking after a child with mental health diagnoses.

You also mention worry, which is very understandable in the circumstances, and can also be pretty exhausting to deal with. As much as possible, it can help to focus on the short term - what is happening that day, rather than all the possible futures. Although sometimes thinking about the future is necessary and helpful for planning, often in situations like these, there tends to be more unhelpful worry rather than helpful planning. You might find this article helpful when it comes to focusing on the present moment.

In terms of accessing further support, you mentioned that your daughter has been engaged with CAMHS. Her CAMHS case worker may actually know about local services for parents that might be helpful. There are often services designed for families and carers which are provided by the local primary health network. If you’re in Canberra, Head to Health may be able to provide support.
Since you mention your daughter has an eating disorder, I also wanted to mention that the Butterfly foundation has online support groups, including one for family and friends.

Best wishes,

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.