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Pat

Age at interview: 43
Brief Outline: Pat’s daughter was bullied at school when she was 14. She started scratching her arms and later took an overdose. Pat describes coping as a single father. Clinical services have been helpful, but he would like the school to deal with the bullies.
Background: Pat is divorced and looks after his three children aged 15, 13 and 11. He works as a builder. Ethnic background: White.

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Pat is divorced and lives with his three children. When his eldest daughter was 14 she was seriously bullied at school. She started scratching her arms and then used a flannel to burn herself. A few months later she took an overdose of painkillers. She told a school friend that she had done this and Pat was advised to take her straight to the GP’s surgery, where they were seen immediately. Pat thought the GP was fantastic – he checked Pat’s daughter’s symptoms and sent her home, saying he would see her again in a month. He warned her of the dangers of overdose, but when he asked her if she would take another she said she would. Pat says when he heard this ‘time stopped’.

Pat’s first reaction when he found out about the self-harming was to ask ‘Why? What did I do, what didn’t I do? What could I have done, what should I have done?’ He says the first couple of weeks were very dark, very lonely, and it was hard to find someone to talk to who could understand. He describes the feeling of total lack of control – as a father, you’re used to telling your child that everything will be alright, that you can sort it out, and suddenly you can’t. Pat and his daughter are able to talk about her problems, though Pat says he finds it hard to guess what she is thinking as she is good at keeping up appearances. He doesn’t want to keep asking but is worried all the time she is out of his sight. She expresses guilt about self-harming and says she’s sorry she’s let Pat down, but he says he feels he must have let her down somewhere for her to be so desperate. She had been sad since her parents separated, and had been the victim of abuse which was related to the bullying. She was first helped by a lady from SAFE, a victim support charity, who suggested coping strategies for self-harming but was limited to 16 sessions. Pat’s daughter was then referred to PCAMHS (Primary Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and later CAMHS. The CAMHS team have said she has no mental health issues but she is just stressed by the bullying. The family are also involved with the Hub, a local early intervention facility which helped with Pat’s younger daughter who has special education needs. Pat says they were all ‘brilliant’, though because the CAMHS sessions are confidential and focused on the child he doesn’t feel he gets anything back from them. 

Although Pat thinks the pastoral care service at the school was pretty good, he is very angry at the school’s failure to address the bullying. The school told him that a lot of people in his daughter’s year group were self-harming and that it rarely progressed, which he found reassuring (although this wasn’t the case). He says he feels he has let his daughter down as he can’t influence the school. Initially he thought his daughter should stay at the school as he doesn’t believe in letting bullies win, but he has now followed his daughter’s wishes and is completing forms for her to move schools.

The impact of all this on Pat and the family has been devastating. Pat currently goes to about five meetings a week in connection with his daughter’s problems. He says he is on a constant state of red alert and is extremely tired. Having no one to share it with makes things worse. He has been drinking more than usual and feels sad, lost, confused and angry. He has been taking medication for depression and anxiety for several years but doesn’t want to go back to his doctor because his current stress is related to his concerns for his daughter. He is self-employed but hasn’t been able to work in the last few weeks due to the tiredness and because he wants to be at home when school finishes. This has huge financial implications. 

Pat’s two younger children are very anxious about their sister and were worried that they might have added to her problems. Pat is concerned about his ex-wife’s attitude: the children stayed with her for several months after the breakup and the CAMHS team have suggested that his older daughter’s low self-esteem may be related to this period. Pat tries to hide his distress from his children, but his ex-wife rushed over in tears when she heard about the self-harm. He thought this was unhelpful as she was very involved for a few days and then didn’t get in touch for some time. Pat’s elderly parents are also worrying about the situation but Pat is reluctant to share his anxieties with them as he doesn’t want to increase their stress.

Pat would like some practical help in dealing with the school and the procedure of changing schools. He was reluctant to search the internet for support as he was worried about what he might find. He is very anxious about his daughter’s future, especially if the cause of her problems is not addressed and she stays in the same neighbourhood. Pat thinks that maybe fathers are less well equipped to deal with emotions, though he has a good relationship with his daughter. He thinks his ‘stiff upper lip’ and practical approach to problems has been helpful as it hasn’t increased his daughter’s sense of guilt. He thinks fathers can be overlooked by clinical teams and would like clinicians to understand that for parents, this is their first experience of self-harm and they feel extremely raw, so they need to be treated sensitively. To parents he says ‘Don’t blame yourself. It happens, so try not to go into it with a heavy heart’.
 

Pat keeps asking ‘Why?’ trying to understand his daughter’s self-harm.

Pat keeps asking ‘Why?’ trying to understand his daughter’s self-harm.

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[Laughs] Why? Which is all I, I’ve spent months literally just saying, “Why?” And it’s really unhelpful because, as I said, there isn’t, I don’t think, it’s almost, [my daughter] would look at it as, “Why not?”

Which is a really huge worry. I’m sat here now trying to think, behind talking, and I’m just thinking, “Why is my little girl doing this?”
 
 

Pat’s daughter was desperately unhappy when she was the victim of bullying at school.

Pat’s daughter was desperately unhappy when she was the victim of bullying at school.

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She still sends a lot of dark messages some days. If they start on her at school, the first place she wants to get is home, which is nice, but she has these feelings that don’t, that go beyond just not wanting to be there anymore. She simply can’t cope and it’s very difficult to get people to take it seriously I think, even, even adults, “Oh, you know, another couple of weeks and they won’t be there. It’ll be half term soon.” But she’s gone in almost every day for four months to be shouted at, screamed at, spat at.

Sometimes it’s just intimidation by looking, you know, and that’s sort of laughable when you’re my size but, when there’s a group of them doing it, and I think they call it the bitch stare, whatever that is, she’s broken, absolutely broken. 
 

Pat felt confused and kept asking himself what he could have done differently.

Pat felt confused and kept asking himself what he could have done differently.

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Horrid, horrid and confusing. I think when they first tell you or you first find out all chaps naturally think, why?

Which is the world’s most unhelpful question because the answer is because they can, because they did and yeah, you just think why for a long time. What did I do? What didn’t I do? What could I have done? What should I have done? And they never get answered I don’t think and time goes very slowly and I became paranoid then. Every time my daughter went, not missing, but went upstairs to the toilet you know, anything after five minutes, “What are you at? What are you doing?”

And it was a long couple of weeks, really long, very dark, very lonely, very hard to find someone to talk to, who could understand because who understands? I don’t know. Sorry to go round and round.

Yes.

I just kept going back to why and my daughter doesn’t know why and until you can overcome that you don’t really go anywhere and now I just look at it, she did because she did, she did because she could, she did it because she was unhappy, really really tough. I’ve got some younger children and they were asking some really difficult questions and, all of a sudden, it’s not just you or you and your daughter or whoever, the whole family is involved in.

Very, very emotional. It’s a bit like a bereavement.

But, obviously, well luckily, my little girl is alive but you, like a ber- what should you have done? What could you have done? And you just go round and round and round and trying to find an escape is very difficult. Sorry.

No. That’s.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense any of that answer but it’s just the weirdest feeling.

Yes.

Total lack of control, total lack of understanding and, like most parents, you go through life going, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right. Don’t worry. I’ll look after that. I’ll sort that out.” And suddenly you can’t.

You just have no knowledge about what they’re understanding. Luckily, she does talk to me and we talk about it but it hasn’t improved my knowledge at all, really horrid.
 

Pat thought his ex-wife’s response to their daughter’s self-harm was too emotional. He tried to hide his own distress.

Pat thought his ex-wife’s response to their daughter’s self-harm was too emotional. He tried to hide his own distress.

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And does her mum know about the self-harm?

Yes, yes, I’ve, [sighs] I would rather not get her involved but I, I think I have a duty, as a, you know, and you’re quite often forced by the social end of things to let mum see and that, irrelevant of what happens, so I, I have involved her  and she’s, but it’s sort of half supportive, it’s a rush over, which I understand, and it’s tears, which I sort of understand but I’ve hidden mine, you know. I’ve had a cry in a car park somewhere, and I’ve had a cry in the van and I don’t know what’s right or wrong. I haven’t cried in front of [my daughter] because she always blames herself badly and says, “I don’t want to worry you.” I’ve said it again, sorry. “I don’t want to worry you, daddy.” 

But we had, we had a rushed over visit, lots of tears, which were really unhelpful, and it, I’d had, I mean that might be odd and it might be a man thing but it was just really unhelpful. It didn’t, if, it wasn’t for [my daughter], oh sorry, it wasn’t for my daughter  and it didn’t do her any good but it made mum feel better, I’m guessing. And then we were very involved for a few days and then missing again, not missing, but then that weekend they weren’t due to see her and we didn’t see her or hear from her and I personally, would have been a little bit more hands on  and that, that’s it’s a bit like a roller coaster. It’s all or nothing and it’s patchy when it when it, you know, and then it’s nothing for months and I’d rather not manage that any more but I’m not allowed. If that makes sense. I think they’d be better off not seeing her because it’s like a mourning cycle.

She comes back in, promises them the world, delivers nothing and then disappears so they mourn and then she comes back in and I would like it to stop but, at the minute, I’ve got other things on my mind but nobody will ever turn around and say, it’s very difficult to turn round and say, “It’s actually destructive seeing your own parent.” When I think it can be, without a shadow of a doubt, it can be.
 

Pat is very pleased with the service his daughter received from the GP.

Pat is very pleased with the service his daughter received from the GP.

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And has the GP been helpful and supportive at all?

We haven’t been back since we went in but he was absolutely fantastic. We phoned, somebody advised us to phone and say, “Can we come in?” “Yep.” We walked in and they said, “Two seconds, don’t take a seat.” And I hadn’t even said who I was. He came out and took us in, even though there were other people there, and I think we were with him forty five minutes. We are very, very lucky in that he is fantastic anyway, absolutely fantastic, magnificent bedside manner, absolutely cares but he was fantastic. I do think he did ask to see [my daughter] again in about a month, which will have passed, but, at the time, I don’t think I was taking in any more information but I certainly left there thinking we could always go back.

But I would never bother him with how I felt, I’ve got to be honest. But he was fantastic, couldn’t have couldn’t have wanted more. I was, with the pressure they’re under and it’s always in the news and, “Oh god, I phoned in November for an appointment and got one in July.” They were waiting on us literally. They made no drama, no fuss, we didn’t feel odd and we just went straight in and I did say to her, I said, “You have got people waiting.” “Don’t worry.” He said, “There’s other doctors on. Don’t worry.”

And it was first class, absolutely first class, not a qualm there at all. You could say, well, perhaps he should have phoned us up as the month has gone by but we have to stop being a nanny state, at some point, don’t we. You know, I haven’t felt the need to take [my daughter] back there. 
 

Pat was worried when he ‘didn’t get anything back’ from CAMHS.

Pat was worried when he ‘didn’t get anything back’ from CAMHS.

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I haven’t seen anything out there for parents really. CAMHS are ill-equipped I think, I don’t, but it’s not their remit I don’t I don’t think. Yeah, I don’t get anything back from them at all ever, which is a bit of a worry.

Yes, so you just take her there and you wait and then you take her away.

It’s very near to her school so she can make her own way. I’ve always picked her up and I think I’ve always taken her so far but, basically, I go there, drop her off, either sit outside or go and have a coffee and then come back and pick her up and I just go, “How was it?” Because you sort of want to know but I don’t want to pry.

And then I find out whatever she wants to tell me. Yesterday she had a lot to say but yeah, I haven’t, no, I haven’t heard from them at all. I did speak to them the other day when we had to move an appointment and I did, I do remember saying, you know, “Let me know if you want me to come along.” And I’m fairly sure they sort of sniggered [laughs].

But I’m fairly sure I’m quite tightly wound [laughs] at the minute, to be honest. I think my paranoia is kicking in. But I mean I don’t want to know what they’re talking to her about particularly. I just want her to be okay but it would be nice, I guess, all I’ve really heard is that they don’t think that she’s got a mental illness and they’ll keep seeing her and they did come to a meeting at the school where they expressed their deep unhappiness at the school.
 

Pat was angry about his daughter’s school’s attitude to bullying.

Pat was angry about his daughter’s school’s attitude to bullying.

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And what is the school’s attitude to it all?

[Laughs] difficult. How big is your beeping machine?

[Laughs.]

Poor. They’re in, in denial but they have been for a long time. They’re were a very successful grammar school, this, some of this is going to go down like a lead balloon, and their catchment area isn’t as good as it used to be, shall we say, so they’ve got a lot more characters. Luckily, the head has just changed and they’re trying to be a lot more robust, but they don’t uphold the school uniform, therefore, you’ve got a general lack of discipline. Luckily, or unluckily, I know a worker that who went in there about a week, week and a half afterwards to introduce herself in connection with the local hub and they said, “No, we don’t have any problems at all.” 

Now, perhaps they hadn’t had enough attempted suicides that week, I don’t know. I mean that’s how I see it, very ironic and I happened to see her, possibly that night, the night after she’d been in and I said, “Oh, I need to talk to you. I’ve got such problems and I don’t understand.” And her mouth just fell open. They are in, they had not mentioned anything. But I do wonder, to be fair, whether they have the training.

It’s very easy for me to get very angry [laughs] and I do get very angry but I wonder you get made head of year and what have you been trained in to be head of year, and I was really pleased that they had no policy for dealing with this really, because I can’t think of anything worse than sitting down and thinking, “Right, we’ve got, I’ve got seven or eight hundred pupils, the way things are nowadays, two a year are going to try and attempt suicide. What are we going do?” That that’s not teaching to me, if you know what I mean, but not only did they seem to have no policy, anything that’s in place by the county council about bullying, they’re not very keen, in my opinion, to follow up. 
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