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As a mother, I felt powerless to help

[Trigger warning: this post references suicide and self-harm]

My daughter was twelve when she decided she would be better off dead. She took an overdose and spent five days in hospital, where I was told to expect the worst.

It was a devastating shock. I had no idea she wanted to die - she seemed happy and carefree, was top of her class at school and had lots of friends. Our home life was good and we were a strong, loving family. What could have made her feel like this? I tried to look for answers but she wasn't talking.

On the night of her overdose, the paramedic found she had been self-harming for some time. I was completely shocked. Thinking back I had thought it was strange that she always wore long sleeved tops even though it was summer. She used to say it was because she was cold.

After she left hospital, things got worse. She returned to school and I began getting phone calls from her teachers, saying how bad her behaviour was and that she was now smoking. I could see for myself how much she had changed but I felt powerless to help - I still didn't know what was causing it.

Even after starting counselling and art therapy, she still wouldn't say why she had done it and her behaviour was out of control. She tried smoking pot and was making toxic friendships. I was so scared she would attempt to take her life again.

One night she came into my bed for a cuddle, which was rare as she wasn't overly affectionate. I could tell she had things on her mind. I had asked her why she had taken an overdose before but she always clammed up. This time I could see she was thinking about opening up.

She explained she had been hearing a nasty voice inside her head, which mocked her and told her she was an awful person who deserved to die. She had been dealing with this alone for a whole year. It had defeated her the night she tried to take her life - she couldn’t take any more and saw death as her only way out.

We sat and talked for hours. It was upsetting to hear but I was relieved that she had spoken about it. Although I felt now I knew what we were dealing with, she could get the help she needed, she said she felt the voice would never leave her. When I told her I loved her, she looked away. "Did the voice say something?" I asked. "Yes. It said it's not true and you're lying."

After she fell asleep, I wrote everything she had told me onto 15 sides of A4. I didn't want to leave anything out. The next morning I went to the newsagents, photocopied the papers and put them in envelopes for everyone involved with her care; her teachers, psychiatrist, counsellors and social worker.

When we saw her psychiatrist the next day he explained that, with the right treatment and time, she would get better. After more assessment she was put on child-appropriate medication and continued with therapy to treat what her psychiatrist explained were elements of different mental illnesses -PTSD, depression, psychosis and the beginnings of an eating disorder.

Things at home and school were still bad. I found a suicide note in her room and could see she was still struggling. She began to see a crisis team who visited every day and we were assigned a behavioural specialist to help deal with her behaviour.

Then something amazing happened. Slowly things started to improve. Bit by bit I could see my old daughter returning. Her desire to die melted away and the voice got quieter until it disappeared completely. Her psychiatrist gradually weaned her off her medication and her therapist saw her less and less. With time and support, she had come through it and her nightmare was finally behind her.

Now my daughter is 17 with the whole world at her feet. She's learning to drive, studying law and is happy and healthy. She's grown into a beautiful young woman who is kind, thoughtful, loving and fun. We're closer than ever and now when I say I love her, she says it back.

I believe more research into mental illness in young people is needed because children today are so vulnerable. There is immense pressure on them to do well at school and fit in socially. The rise of social media can mean even more pressure to look good and 'keep up' with others in all aspects of life. I think the biggest challenge that my daughter's generation faces is finding a balance between healthy and unhealthy use of social media and technology in general.

The work MQ does is essential for finding ways we can treat mental illness at its earliest possible stage. Research and awareness of mental illness is vital so that people in need can be helped before they reach crisis point - before it’s too late.

Melanie, 37, is a writer, designer and mental health advocate from Bedfordshire. She has written a book about her daughter's journey through childhood mental illness, "And When You Become A Diamond." It's available from Amazon here:

Last updated: 6 June 2019

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