Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Emergency hospital treatment and other services

Emergency medical services may be involved after someone has self-harmed. The parents and carers we spoke to had very different experiences of their contact with Emergency Departments and other services.

Several parents made positive comments about hospital staff. Jo-Ann said the nurses were all extremely caring and non-judgemental. When Sarah Y’s daughter took an overdose the doctors and nurses were very busy, but took time to answer all Sarah’s questions and were understanding about her needs.
Sometimes busy hospital staff may appear unsympathetic. The second time Sandra’s daughter went to hospital she felt the staff ‘treated her as another number’. Wendy overheard a nurse saying ‘It’s another self-harm’. She thought ‘It may be another self-harm to you but this is my daughter and I don’t know whether she’s fighting for her life or not.’ Susan Z told us her daughter hated the way she was treated when she took an overdose. ‘I think hospital staff don’t understand and they don’t respond very sympathetically,’ Susan explained. 
Several parents talked about the difference between adult and children’s wards in the general hospital. ‘I’d say my child had a very good experience when she was fifteen,’ Isobel told us, ‘in that she was seen very quickly and nurses’ response to her was warm and caring and friendly, which was in stark contrast to when she was over fifteen.’ Alexis’s daughter was put on an ordinary surgical ward full of older patients: ‘It wasn’t very pleasant, but the staff were very caring.’ Alexis was told to leave her daughter in the evening but she insisted on staying to look after her.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines recommend that all young people coming to hospital after self-harm should receive an assessment of their mental and social needs. While this happens in many cases, some, like Jane S’s daughter (see above), were not offered any psychiatric follow-up. Bernadette’s son went to hospital with serious burns. She told us ‘I was annoyed that they never admitted him mainly because they did have a mental health unit attached to that hospital and I thought, why didn’t they do anything? And they were just looking at me like, “Well, what a mother, you know, letting him do that.” 

Parents mentioned good experiences of other services. Sharon said NHS Direct were ‘very nice. They weren’t judgemental at all. They explained everything very clearly. I felt they were very supportive.’ She also praised the paramedics who took her daughter to hospital, as did Jane Z, who said they were ‘very good, very practical.’ Isobel thought the ambulance staff were ‘really lovely people and very caring.’ Tracey was very impressed with the way the police talked to her son. She also felt reassured when the social services assessment team listened carefully to her concerns and confirmed that she was ‘doing the right things.’

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