Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Mental health services - community

Some people who self-harm may need to be supported by their local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). CAMHS is a service for young people up to the age of 18 with mental health problems. CAMHS professionals will meet the young person and family to assess the problems and then decide with them what help is needed. Sometimes, if the problems are less severe, a young person may be referred to a mental health service providing short term treatment. The family members of young people who had been in contact with mental health services told us about their experiences. 

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
Several parents talked about positive contact with the CAMHS team. Susan Y was pleased with the help her daughter received: ‘She’s got the number for CAMHS. They’ve left it for her to be able to ring. She’s got lots of information where she can get help. They’ve given her booklets. …They’ve given strategies, talking and writing it down, everything has been really brilliant.’ Sandra had heard negative reports from other parents, but said the team were really supportive of her daughter. They offered Sandra extra help, including family therapy, but Sandra decided to rely on her own resources. Joanne talked about a CAMHS community mental health nurse ‘who has been absolutely brilliant. We’ve known her for two years, and I’m sure she does way beyond what she should be doing.’ Anna said CAMHS had been ‘fantastic in terms of supporting the family’. 
Alexis thought the CAMHS team were ‘very kind and helpful’ but they didn’t stop her daughter self-harming. Although they provided somewhere to talk, made suggestions and gave her workbooks to try to bring her feelings out, her daughter found it hard to find someone she could relate to. Nicky said one good thing which came out of the CAMHS was that ‘it provided me and my husband with a space for us to talk about how her behaviour affected us and affected the family, which meant that we were able to talk about coping strategies and ways of dealing with it, which probably kept my marriage together.’ However, Nicky thought the CAMHS counsellor’s refusal to talk to her daughter about a possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder was a problem. 
Other parents were unhappy with the treatment they received. Joanna said the CAMHS service was ‘very unhelpful.’ Her daughter ‘ended up telling a woman what she thought she wanted to hear. There was no relationship with a counsellor there.’ Gwendoline and Jo-Ann would have like more continuity with the therapists who were often away. Jane Z was not satisfied with her daughter’s CAMHS treatment. In order to decide whether someone has a mental health problem clinicians have to ask about different symptoms. Sometimes, as Jane Z told us, this can appear like a ‘check-list to cover their backs’. Jane also thought her daughter might be upset by being asked questions about hearing voices, implying that if she was self-harming she must be mentally ill. 

While many young people were treated relatively quickly, some parents were concerned about long waiting lists. Debbie’s daughter saw a mental health nurse in connection with her eating disorder but no psychological treatment was available for eighteen months. Susan Z said her daughter waited over a year to be offered counselling. Charles was told there was a long waiting list for family therapy. Sometimes parents had to push hard in order to get treatment. Joanne contacted her MP; Ann threatened to go to the local press.
Crisis Team
In some areas there is a CAMHS Crisis Team to help people in the community. Crisis teams are able to respond quickly to an emergency and can visit young people in their homes or schools. They may also be available overnight to provide telephone support. Alexis was delighted with the service provided. Jo-Ann was concerned that her daughter saw different people every time: ‘Each day you get a different person speaking to you. Sometimes people are very caring and empathic, sometimes they’re not so, sometimes they’re quite brusque and that’s very difficult then because then she doesn’t feel cared about and she feels that they’re just trying to fob her off.’ This wasn’t a problem for Alexis, who said that ‘you might see somebody different every day, but the handovers they did were amazing. So if something had been said on the Tuesday and someone else came on a Wednesday, they knew.’ Charles saw ‘a succession of different people, which we didn’t particularly like’. 

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