Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Mental health services - involvement of families

Difficulty in relationships within families may sometimes contribute to self-harm. However, in general, families are seen as a very important part of trying to help the young person. Services will usually try to involve parents and other family members within treatment. 

Some parents were pleased to be included by their child’s clinical team. Sharon went to a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) parents forum. She could phone at any time to talk to the team and they updated her regularly. Anna described good communications between herself, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and her daughter’s school: ‘Everybody communicated with me and nobody ever treated me like I was some half-wit.’ She and her daughter had both been bereaved by the death of her husband, so she accepted the CAMHS offer of support for the whole family.
Other parents felt they had been excluded. Ruth wished she could have been involved more. She found it frustrating that she couldn’t discuss a lot of things with CAMHS, although she understood the need for patient confidentiality. Jo’s daughter was over eighteen when she was seen by the community mental health team. ‘It was made very clear to me that I was not welcome in the consultation,’ Jo told us. Pat was surprised that CAMHS didn’t include him, though he said he was sure that they would tell him if they were worried. Jane Z said, ‘The confidentiality thing is a huge issue because I have absolutely no idea what’s been said to her’.
Family therapy
Several parents were offered family therapy. Some decided not to participate – Sandra had other sources of support and thought it might be awkward as she worked in the same professional area. Isobel didn’t want to attend sessions with her ex-husband. Debbie chose not to be involved when she thought her family were being ‘targeted’. Joanne took part, though she thought family therapy was ‘there to help my daughter, but my ex, her dad, goes along to it and it’s basically my daughter having a go at him… but it doesn’t help.’ Ann found the process disturbing and wouldn’t recommend it, but Liz’s family thought it was useful. Anna was pleased that CAMHS offered support to the family unit (see clip above).

Last reviewed December 2017.

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