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14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hi. I've been lurking on this site for a few weeks, but have finally decided to post. My 14 year old daughter was diagnosed this year with anxiety and depressive disorders after 2-3 years of issues. She self harms and frequently has suicidal thoughts, although to my knowledge has never attempted. Has had two hospital stays this year, currently taking medication and also now under the care of CAMHS. We have seen various practitioners over the last two years, including an extended stint with Youth Focus, but she does not engage with any of them, and remains mute during appointments. Her anxiety is so severe that she now does not attend school, and has already missed two whole terms this year. In the last six months that she did attend school, she remained selectively mute. (She does talk with her friends).

The school avoidance became so bad, that when I was working, I had the constant anxiety of not knowing if she would attend school or stay at school. As a teacher, my schedule is not very flexible, so this was incredibly stressful, even though my employer was very understanding. I have now had to take a combo of long service and unpaid leave from my job this year to be with her, as her situation is impossible to manage with a full time job. My husband earns more than me, so decided together it made more sense for me to stay home for now, but the way things are right now, I can’t see myself being able to go back to work next year. Frustrating, because I thought I'd reached a point in my life where I had a bit more freedom to pursue career and it also means money will be tight. But our biggest priority right now is keeping her safe. (Must add that hubby is very involved and supportive, and took turns with me in juggling appointments & sick days before I stopped working).

We enrolled her in distance education this term, but that has also proved to be a failure, because, although the service is terrific and staff very helpful, she says she is just unable to focus and concentrate on the school work. I often have trouble getting her out of bed before lunchtime. This is so frustrating, as she is a very bright and creative girl, and was in academic extension programmes at her high school. I know it causes her further anxiety too, as she is isolated from the shared school experiences of her friends, and is now worrying about how she will be able to get to uni if she is missing so much school. At this stage, I no longer care at what level she is studying, I just want her to be engaged in doing something meaningful that she enjoys.

Every time we think she may be making some progress, something happens to plunge her back into a deep hole. She is very sensitive and insecure, and prone to see negatives where there are none. She is convinced that her older sibling is the “favourite”, simply because he is attending school with no issues, she feels disconnected from the family, no matter how much we support her, she tells herself she has no friends and everyone at her school hates her, that we think she is a nuisance and we’d be better off with her not being around. It is absolutely heartbreaking, because our whole lives are revolving around her right now, and she just doesn’t see it. I live with constant gut-renching fear that she will attempt, and it's also a constant juggle to remain positive and upbeat around her, and never to let on the effects that her illness is having on the rest of us for fear it will drive her to self harm or worse. 

It's frustrating that we just don’t know what has caused this, although I know there are never easy answers. We are just your average everyday loving family, with no known history of MI, and our oldest, who is 16, is the most calm and well adjusted teen you could wish for. This experience with our youngest has completely blind-sided us, and all we want is for her to find some peace and a capacity to love herself, or at least, be kinder to herself.

Would love to hear about others’ experiences with anxiety, school avoidance and selective mutism.

14 REPLIES 14

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hi @Kesa,

I am really glad you decided to share your story with us here Heart

It can be so hard to support a young teenager through navigating mental health issues and it sounds like you and your partner are doing as much as you possibly can to support her. Her selective mutism must make it difficult to understand what she might be thinking and feeling towards things.

It is unfortunate that her anxiety is so overwhelming that she can no longer attend school although I think it is really positive that you have redefined your goals and perspective to focus on her general engagement instead. Sometimes breaking down the pressures that are on all of us- no matter what age - by redesigning our goals to smaller settings can be extremely encouraging. You are doing such a great job even though it can feel like a constant uphill battle.

I had a thought that maybe it would be worth also looking at Reach Out which is focused on young people - your daughter may feel a bit more connected by reading other young peoples stories there as well?

We have a really nurturing, encouraging community here, some of whom are also parents or have experience in the carer area in general or some that I just know would like to cheer you on! @Faith-and-Hope, @Former-Member, @soul@,@Shaz51. You may also find it useful to use the search bar at the top of the forum to find related topics you can get involved in or, if you just need a rest, come along for a hot chocolate here.

Lauz

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hello @Kesa and a warm welcome to Sane,

My daughter had similar issues at that age with anxiety, mood swings and depression and yes, she would never be honest and open to talk about it with adults, whether professional or with us; but different in regards that our daughter also became quite rebellious. She did drop out of school a few times but went back and just scrapped through to obtain her higher school certificate. My daughter's lifestyle choices were also self destructive, so again different from your daughter. My daughter did SH for some time.

When I read your post two things came to mind that may have proven too much for your daughter:- pressure to perform and constantly excel academically (perfectionism perhaps?); with comparing her performance too much with others for acceptance and/or bullying/peer pressure. She may be also comparing herself to her brother/other's standards which she feels she can't live up to and feels inadequate and insecure perhaps? She may have been the victim of jealous harassment/bullying at school? This will all damage a young person's sense of self and create low self esteem and confidence which can often lead to anxiety/depression and self harm in that age bracket.

A lot Teenagers will avoid activities and anything where they fear "failure and embarrassment" - and this is perhaps one of the reasons why your daughter is avoiding school. Together with low self esteem this will lessen motivation to do things. 

If anything like this has occurred you may not even be aware of it as most teenagers will not tell anyone out of embarrassment, and their inner pain/low self esteem is too extreme to confront. This is half the problem, mutism, as until they start to open up more the deeper issues are never resolved and the mental scars/emotional stress grow. You said she talks to her friends - do you know what about? 

Her symptoms sound typical of acute stress, burnout, constant worry/anxiety, low self esteem, perfectionism, and/or depression. I have experienced such myself. I think it is wonderful how you state you don't care at what level your daughter is studying, just that she does something meaningful in life. I feel this is so important that your daughter knows this and a great place to start towards her healing. That she knows she is excepted warts and all for being just who she is, but also being aware that we do have to strive for something in life, but within our own limitations and to strive towards what matters to us that we feel comfortable with doing as a career. University study is not for everyone regardless of intellect and creativity and it's important she knows she is not a failure if she chooses a different path to her goals.

Once the pressure wears off she may start to feel better - more importantly better about herself by truly knowing her worth does not equal a high academic standard or comparison. And I agree that if she can be encouraged to do something meaningful that she feels comfortable with - this will help boost her confidence and self esteem that will help her come through this.

Does your daughter like to exercise, play sport or dance etc? Great for releasing tension and raising those endorphins. It would help your daughter to have some care free fun. There is so much pressure on young people to perform today than ever before and many struggle with mental health issues as a result. That's a burden society has put on families and it can be a juggling act; - but with anything it's a balancing act we need to exercise or we will tip over. Your daughter it struggling with much presently so now it is baby steps one day at a time which can prove frustrating when we feel the need to work/heal at a faster pace. But a must for proper healing as all have different time periods. For some it can take years.

When you said she starts to improve then something will happen and she will go backwards - what things are happening at that time? Do you see her slipping backwards when she feels she needs to study or meet some type of expectations? This may give you an indication to what her triggers are. 

It's is really hard when our teenager children experience such disabling anxiety and depression. The worry is great and heartbreaking. I really feel for you. Please know that all we can do is our best and love and support them as much as we can. That is all we can do, and then it's taking a step back and allowing our teenage children to work through their issues - one day at a time. Working with a psychologist who specialises in this area of adolescent depression/anxiety is a must to know what boundaries also need to be put in place without causing undue pressure - as all teenagers need them for proper development.

You are doing a great job, please never think this is anything you have done wrong and know many struggle with these problems in family and you are not alone. Sending a warm hug 

 

 

 

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hi @Kesa and welcome to the forums.  

I am glad you have found us, because if nobody has said it to you already, "you're in a marathon, not a sprint race" and this will be ongoing for quite some time.  That means you need to shore up support for yourself, and being a part of these forums, walking along with others and having them walk along with me, has made a massive difference to my coping ability in our circumstances.

My husband has an undiagnosed eating disorder and is oblivious to it,  he thinks it is a healthy lifestyle change, and anyone who is not supportive of his extreme diet and exercise regimen is either jealous, ignorant, or both.  There is more to the disorder than that, including values and personality changes, but I won't go into all of that here.  

The effects on our family have been devastating, and it has affected the three "kudults" we still have living at home.  One has become psycho-somatic, another now diagnosed with anxiety and depression .... and still no diagnosis over my hubby at this stage.  Needless to say our marriage is not in great shape either.

Our son who is struggling with the anxiety and depression is lack-lustre in the same way you have described regarding your daughter, although no sh or si indicated at this stage.  It is a struggle to get him out of sleeping all day in a darkened room, so I hear where you're coming from.

I would say it is imperative to find support for your own mental health.  It is hard not to focus on what is happening for them, and begin to struggle with mood control yourself, but remaining as stable and even-natured yourself as possible is perhaps the best support you can give them as they go through what they need to go through to get well.  This involves having enough to focus on in terms if your own interests, staying physically active, eating as well as you can, sleeping as well as you can, having friends or a health professional you can talk to when the going is rough (that's where we can help ❣️) and trying to treat them as normally as you would otherwise.  

People generally gravitate towards where they feel heard, loved, appreciated, respected, supported, etc, so keeping on keeping on with all of these things is so important .... and keeping stable family time over set meal-times, family outings and movies, etc as a natural rythym to family life,

I hope this helps ....

💐💜

F&H

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hi @Kesa and welcome to the forums.  , sending you hugs my friend  and remember you are not alone HeartHeart

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Thanks so much @Lauz. I will definitely check out those links!

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful reply @Former-Member. It's so helpful hearing from people who have been through some similar issues.

Yes, my daughter certainly struggles a lot with a lack of confidence, and I think perfectionism to a large degree. The classic response of feeling like if she can't do it perfectly, it's too overwhelming to even attempt. We try and try to build her up, but this has always been part of her personality. I even remember her kindy teacher making these sort of observations. She even had it in her mind that because I am a teacher, and of course she'd heard me make the odd comment at home on bad or funny responses I'd seen marking papers, (as you do...), that I would be similarly judgemental of her work. I never, ever was, but it goes to show that you have to be so careful with what you say around our fragile kids!

More than anything though, I think at the moment, her triggers are more to do with social interactions. We don't know the full extent of it, but she certainly suffered from some bullying in late primary and early high school. She is a bit of a quirky personality, and not your typical bright bubbly compliant "girly girl". Socially of course, this can be hard, but she does have a small circle of lovely close friends. She is also super creative and artistic - her drawings are incredible - I don't know where she got that skill from. Certainly not from me! But she lacks confidence all the time. She is also super reliant on validation from peers on social media, as they all are, and the smallest hint of a slight or a bitchy comment sends her into a psychological melt down. @Former-Member, your comment on avoiding "failure and embarrassment" definitely strikes a chord when thinking of her. 

Thank-you for the validation that we are doing a great job. It often doesn't feel like it, and it is so hard to have any practical ideas about what to do next. I know this is not going to be a quick fix situation. Smiley Sad 

 

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

Hi @Kesa, I am so glad you decided to share your story on this forum. Your daugher is very ill and deciding to leave work to care for her was a brave and responsible decision. She does need supervision. She could get a lot worse. My eldest son developed OCD at age 9 and also experienced school avoidance. After spending some time at home being home schooled he did eventually make it back to school. However, his OCD made it impossible for him to complete his schooling because he couldn't write anything. (He would start, and then start again, and again etc) At age 28 he is now an invalid with schizoaffective disorder. Your daughter's best hope is ongoing treatment under medical supervision. OCD is a hell of a thing to live with, and she will need all the comfort, safety, security and stability you can muster. All the best; keep us updated.

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

I only occassionally visit this site now, but it was an absolute lifeline in darker times. My own daughter who is now 20 has finally turned a corner but it has been 7 long and extremely difficult years. She was diagnosed with a myriad of conditions before I eventually snapped it at a Dr who wanted to send her home from an inpatient stay. To his credit he rang me after hours and then not only listened to my own account of events (which differed greatly from my daughters!) but understood that it was not possible for her to return home unless there was change in her treatment. I have to admit I was worried for my own state of mind as by this time I had seen it all, the, school refusal (which started years before the real trouble and resulted in her completely dropping out), the self medication, the agoraphobia (didn't step foot out of the house for 9 months), the agitaion, anxiety, anger, depression, endless calls and messages to me at work begging me to come home (I too am a teacher and sole provider in the household), threats of SH, late night visits to hospital (either taking her or picking her up after a big night out somewhere), streams of other affected youth coming in and out of my house at all times of the day and night, the list sadly goes on. In hindsight I wish I had done more for myself, but in reality I know this would never have happened, my only priority was rescuing her from her darkness (and she remains my priority Smiley Happy ). You do have to look after yourself and your family - no question - but you also need to be the strongest most assertive advocate for your daughter that you can be, insist on treatment options from the healthcare system, more importantly insist on diagnosis options, crucial this is correct, insist on her accepting treatment (yes, she will act like she hates you, but trust me she doesn't). It was three intensive hospital stays in a private hospital facility (thank god for health insurance) an intensive outpatient program and ongoing  psychological and psychiatric care (finally found some she could connect with) that has seen her become stable. I know the road ahead is still difficult, there are still issues in many areas, BUT, and this is the biggest most beautiful BUT of all. The demons have been subdued and my beautiful, loving daughter is returning to me. I look back and wonder how on earth I (and she) got through it but now I look forward instead. I feel the sadness and stress and worry and grief of your situation and would love dearly to be able to offer you more than hope, but that's it, nothing I can say will alter your journey very much, take comfort in knowing that for every person who flippantly tells you your daughter simply needs some discipline or a kick in the rear that there are many many many more people who understand and empathise. Fight for her and your family but keep yourself well. Sending love and care your way.

Re: 14 yo with anxiety, depression, school avoidance, selective mutism, self harm.

And therein lies the biggest challenge .... to fight for them while keeping yourself well ...,,

It's my husband, but it has tipped over into making our kids unwell, although they are not in deep water .... yet ...., anxiety, depression and agrophobia at a mild level.

Keep swimming, with your own life preserver secured in place ....,

💜

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