Monday 30 January 2012

"Not suicidal enough"

For some reason at 3am this morning I got thinking back to the time when Ben was suicidal. This was throughout the summer of 2010 when he was at his worst, five months into treatment and ten months after his GP referral. The thought came to mind: "Just how suicidal did he have to be before anyone would take action?"

Obviously our nightmarish summer vacation in France where the ED drove him to swim far out to sea in a dangerous estuary, not caring whether the rip tide pulled him beyond help or not... and where I risked my own life frantically swimming out to try and persuade him to swim back to shore.

No, that obviously wasn't "suicidal enough".

Then there was the nine hour ferry journey from St Malo to Portsmouth where I followed Ben around the ship like a bad smell, ensuring he was never out of my sight. While other passengers looked over the side admiring the deep blue ocean, I was looking at it for an altogether different reason. I was seriously worried that Ben would jump.

But that wasn't "suicidal enough".

That same summer I caught Ben climbing out of his loft bedroom window, two storeys up, intent on crawling up onto the house roof not caring what happened to him. It took me all my strength to pull him back inside and I spent the next day searching online for secure locks for Velux windows.

Despite frantic telephone calls to CAMHS and emergency meetings with the psychiatrist, that wasn't considered "suicidal enough".

I hoovered up all the medication in the house, anything sharp and the house keys so he couldn't go AWOL like he kept threatening to do, but he physically fought me to the ground and escaped via a window. Thankfully he returned later on.

Every time I went upstairs I'd glance up the stairwell from the ground floor to the first floor and up to his loft bedroom, then down again at the sheer long drop, picturing the kind of scene that is every parent's worst nightmare.

But, presumably, that wasn't "suicidal enough" either.

Then there was the day when Ben's friend's mum phoned to say she was worried because her son had just got an email from Ben saying "Give me three good reasons why I should live". Her son was frantic and so was she. Meanwhile Ben was sitting at his PC like a zombie, devoid of all feelings except deep and utter depression. He really didn't care whether he lived or died.

But even that wasn't "suicidal enough".

"So what has to happen before CAMHS takes this seriously?" I asked the Duty Psychiatrist at CAMHS (because ours was on vacation).

Apparently he had to physically harm himself. In other words, he needed marks or cuts of the attempting suicide variety. He needed to actually DO the act. (And fail, presumably.)

High stakes, huh...

Because only then would they take action and section him.

Until that time there was nothing anyone could do, despite the fact it was just Ben and me in the house; his Dad was working away at the time.

I had my friends on 24-hour call, but Ben made threats of what he'd do if I called them round. Ditto if I dialed 999 (911) or attempted to take him to A&E (ER). He held me to ransom. So I did nothing except sit tight and pray. Oh, and desperately call the emergency out-of-hours doctor to see if they could do anything.

Same reply. Their hands were tied by red tape.

And I will be eternally grateful for the supportive response I got from a member of the CAMHS team during that period when she barked at me: "We are not an emergency service, you know!"

That was in response to my phone calls for help. I just didn't know what to do. I felt helpless. During this nightmarish summer I really thought my son would die.

No parent should have to go through that.

And no young person should be so desperate that they have to, either.


  1. I'm not in any way dismissing the awfulness of what you went through. We went through similar stages too and received similar responses and my husband for one will not even speak of the local CAMHS people he's still so angry.

    I'm just asking an open question here - what should they have done?

    The response here was that hospitalisation would make things worse. Having learned just a little about our local(ish - it's 50 minutes away in a different county) general adolescent psychiatric unit I rather tend to agree. It's a grim place, if only because it's full of the adolescents who ARE considered "suicidal enough". So what else should services do and how can we make sure that they are equipped to do it.

    1. It was more a case of wanting a 'safe place' where he would be monitored round the clock by people who could hopefully intervene if necessary... I felt so helpless facing this alone.

    2. Me too, but when my daughter WAS admitted (to an ADULT general unit as she was 19 by then) "to keep you safe" while the nursing staff were very sweet, the psychiatrist believed that "eating disorders are about control" and would not countenance monitoring the eating of someone with a BMI of 15 and Binge-Purge AN. Served him right when she nearly set fire to his ward making toast at 4am really....

  2. PS my most desperate moment when making one of "those" calls was when I got the reply "Oh the team moved out yesterday, I don't know where they've gone"

  3. Urgh...this mirrors my experiences. Even when I was IP in 2007 I was told that my safety was my responsibility - hell, if I could have kept myself safe I would have been at home, I certainly didn't want to be there! My self harm was very severe at times but since that was a way of coping with my anxiety it wasn't treated seriously. I also remember sitting in a session with my psychiatrist crying and telling him I couldn't carry on anymore, and he just sat there for a couple of minutes, then looked at me and said "I don't know what you want me to do about it". It's not just eating disorders, there are many areas of the country where all non-psychotic mental illnesses are seen as being the responsibility and choice of the sufferer, and both safety and recovery are seen as just a matter of determination and willpower. It's ridiculous. I'm sorry you and Ben had to go through all of that too...

    1. Someone said on Saturday about some other ED situation where the clinicians were less than helpful that the response was: "What am I supposed to do? I'm not the Man from Del Monte!"

  4. I'm really so sorry you had to face this alone, Batty... I have been trying to think of a suitable response (apart from sympathy). I think that what you are asking here is:

    "Why weren't the medical profession treating my son's ED seriously?"

    The problem is that many of the medical profession do not view EDs as the serious mental illnesses they are. Rather, they are viewed as cultural fads. This is just one reason why I am so opposed to the plethora of guff about EDs being 'caused' by popular culture and the media. No. ED's come from within a person. The person is prone to mental illness to start off with and possibly also because they have been traumatised by peer bullying and feel socially excluded. Pop culture alone cannot cause EDs. If it did then all young people would have EDs but they don't.

    And EDs are FAR more than body dissatisfaction. The bits that aren't talked about enough are the depression, OCD and suicidal behaviours.