Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Messages to other parents and carers

We asked the people we spoke to if they had any messages for other parents and carers, based on their own experiences of caring for young people who self-harmed. 

Parents urged others caring for people who self-harm to remember that they are not alone. As Nick said, ‘it’s a lot more common than you think.’ They stressed the importance of not ignoring what was happening and acting quickly to get help. ‘It’s not going to go away on its own,’ Ruth told us, ‘Act immediately. Act the moment you think your child is going down that road. Act and get professional help.’ ‘Trust the professionals. They know what they’re doing’, advised Erica. People said sometimes you need to keep on trying to get the professional support you need. ‘You need to be like a dog with a bone really if you’re not happy,’ said Ann. ‘If you’ve got concerns about your child’s mental health, then don’t let it rest.’
A common message was that parents shouldn’t blame themselves or feel guilty about their child’s self-harm. Jo said: ‘Don’t be ashamed. It’s not your fault and it’s not actually your child’s fault either.’ Alexis thinks guilt isn’t helpful: ‘I would say to mothers, don’t feel guilt. Guilt is not going to help you. Whatever has happened in the past, let it go.’
The people we spoke to had various messages about the best ways to help the person who was self-harming. Some said it was important to research and get as much information as possible in order to understand the reasons for self-harm. They advised parents not to blame their child, but to encourage them to talk about their feelings. Bernadette said, ‘Keep the lines of communication open, don’t be too shocked, even if in your heart you are really absolutely horrified.’ Others also emphasised the need to keep calm and not over-react by expressing anger or shock. Several encouraged parents to let their child know they were loved, but also not to neglect other children. ‘If you have other children in the family, it’s very easy for this to become all consuming,’ Tracey warned parents. ‘Try to balance and have some time with other people in the family to keep those relationships maintained and healthy.’ Liz said self-harm shouldn’t be the focus of your relationship with your child. 
Another message was that carers should be aware of their own needs and look after their own health and wellbeing. As Audrey says above, ‘You need to keep yourself mentally well as well as physically well in order to help. …You can’t forget about yourself’.
The people we spoke to wanted to tell others not to give up hope. ‘Hang on in there’, Rosey encouraged. ‘Never ever give up on your children, even at the worst of times’, said Erica. Philip’s message was ‘I feel for you. Stick with it.’ Nicky was reassuring: ‘For anyone who’s going through it, for anyone who is self-harming, I’d say my daughter is living, breathing proof that you can find other strategies.’ Although it was a hard struggle, she now has a ‘beautiful relationship’ with her daughter. ‘If you’d said to me, “You’ll have a relationship with her like that and she’ll stop hurting herself and she’ll be able to do all the things that she wanted to do in life,” I’d have laughed, really I would have. There were years when I never saw an end to any of this and there is an end in sight, but it’s not an easy or a quick fix.’
See also ‘Emotional reactions’, Shame, stigma and taboo’, ‘Personal strategies to help the young person’, ‘Towards recovery’ and ‘Thoughts about the future’.

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