A parent's story about self-harm

Parent talking to child

Rick’s story about his son Carl

At the end of 2005, when my son was in Year 5, I separated from his mother. I think the separation had a big impact on him because he started getting in trouble at school. One day, he got into an argument with some kids and he picked up a stick. Although Carl didn’t hurt anyone with the stick, the threat was enough so he was sent home from school that day.

In Year 6 Carl started to harm himself. I believe all of this was triggered by the stress of my separation from his mother, but also because Carl has his own mental health difficulties.

In the early years of high school, Carl’s problems continued.

He was often getting into trouble at school and having difficulty managing his aggression. We got help from a counsellor and the school, but my honest feeling was that they didn’t know what to do with him. My experience has been that it’s difficult to get help for your child until and unless they reach a crisis point.

Carl is now in Year 10 and, in the last year, he has reached a crisis point. One day at school he had an anxiety attack so bad he had to be taken from the school in an ambulance. At home one night he harmed himself quite seriously. When this happens, you don’t really have the choice about asking for help or ignoring the situation – your hand is forced and help is given to you whether you want it or not.

Now Carl has a caseworker, a psychologist and a psychiatrist. He’s not currently in a state to be able to attend school, but we’re taking the advice of the experts and it seems to be helping, slowly. Some of the advice seems to work a little and I’m still waiting to see if other bits of advice or techniques are going to help Carl.

I have a friend who also has a teenage son with emotional difficulties. We have been a great support for each other. We share ideas and stories and also try to keep a sense of humour. I’ve found that really helps.

I’ve also had help from my own parents. After all, they’ve raised teenagers themselves so they can be a good source of wisdom.

I also use the internet a lot. I listen to the experts but I don’t just take their word for it, I like to research it and find out a bit more myself. I’ve found this really helpful.

For many years I thought that my job as a dad was to make sure I got through everything by myself – that it was all on me to make things right for my kids. But more recently I’ve come to understand that we all need to ask for help. Apart from family and friends I’ve found the forums on places like ReachOut Parents really helpful. It’s good to talk to other parents going through the same thing.

I constantly reassure Carl that I love him and accept him for who he is. We often say ‘we’ll get through this together’. We have a pretty good relationship in spite of everything and that’s really important to me. His problems are ongoing but he knows that I’m there for him and I also now have good support for myself.

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