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"My daughter didn't want to be here any more"

mum & daughter talking

I will never forget the moment my daughter looked me in the eye and told me she didn't want to be here any more.

My world stopped still and I could just hear my own heart pounding in my head. A part of me wanted to scream and cry and the other part of me wanted to say, don't say such a silly thing, of course that's not how you feel!

Thank goodness I did neither of those things, because what I've learnt on our journey as a family since then is just how important it is to listen and acknowledge those feelings - even if they seem utterly incomprehensible to you at the time.

In fact, I count us as very fortunate that she was able to tell me how she was feeling because some families never get the opportunity to at least try and help when someone they love is struggling.

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing and I often wish I had acted on the signs much earlier, because I believe getting help sooner would have really helped; certainly, I think things may not have got so bad for her. There were signs that she was struggling but it can be difficult as you foray into the teenage years to recognise what is a mental health problem and what's just normal teen behaviour.

It's hard to describe the impact H's breakdown had on the whole family. As a parent, your instinct is to want to fix things, to make things better, and it's really hard to accept that you can't. The uncertainty of what you are facing is also difficult to deal with, especially if you have not really experienced mental health problems in someone close to you before.

'What if she never gets better?'

The thing that people say about not understanding what you can't see really has some truth to it. One of the things that I found hardest of all was not knowing where this journey would take us or what recovery might look like. When my children had been ill before - chicken pox, say, or a bout of tonsilitis - you had an inkling of how long they might feel poorly and what you could do or what medication you could give them to make them feel more comfortable. With H, I had no way of knowing how long she would feel this way. Was there anything that could help? Terrifyingly, sometimes I would allow my imagination to roam where I didn't want it to go and I would ask myself, what if she never gets better?

The counselling she had was a turning point. It was such a relief to think that a professional was able to help; not to take away the problems but to give H the tools she needed to cope better and even more importantly, to help her realise it wouldn't always feel this way, that there was a future that looked different.

There was a little bit of me that was, I don't know, jealous somehow, that my daughter was able to speak to someone else and that person was better placed to help. It's ridiculous really, because if your child broke their leg you wouldn't think, oh, we'll see if it goes away by itself or think for just one second that you didn't need to seek help and advice from a qualified expert.

"Don't try to deal with it alone; it's too enormous"

The sooner mental health is given equal weight to physical health the better. I think we are getting better at acknowledging that in adults but the thought that children or teenagers can suffer in a similar way still seems to be a real taboo.

Our family is in a better place these days and we are better at talking - and listening. I like to think I would be better equipped to spot the warning signs again and, crucially, so would H. For now, I am grateful to have the more everyday worries like homework, exams and romances than to wonder whether this might be the day my daughter takes her own life or hurts herself.

I would encourage any family with a child that is struggling to ask for help. Please don't try to deal with it alone, the responsibility just feels too enormous. RICS professionals are so lucky to have a counselling service they can access relatively quickly for their child. Because every day you watch your teenager struggle truly does feel like an eternity.

Abigail* is a mum whose 15-year-old suffered a breakdown and expressed suicidal thoughts. We have kept her identity hidden to protect her daughter's privacy.

Find out more:

LionHeart youth counselling


The pandemic's impact on children's mental health (and what we can do about it)

How families feel youth mental health

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