Jessie and Steve—Healing as a Family from Pain and Teen Self-Injury
March 24, 2020
Jessie, 18, has big goals. She’s spending her time working at a local gym, volunteering across her home state, and learning skills to become a mental health advocate. Jessie has support from her community and tight-knit family, which includes her mom Julie, sisters Lauren and Kathryn, and her father, Steve. On the surface, it may seem like Jessie has it all, but it’s taken years of battling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, self-injury, and two suicide attempts to finally see a future for herself.
Around age 9, Jessie started displaying behavior patterns that were out of the norm for her. It interfered with her day to day life in school, friendships, and home life. After observing changes in behavior progressively worsen over 6 months, Steve and Julie brought Jessie for an evaluation and learned she has OCD. OCD is a mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts, obsessions, and/or urges to do something over and over again to the point where it interferes with a person’s life.
Steve recounted, “This whole experience was terrifying, heart wrenching, and confusing. Our parental ideals were completely upended. I had to properly treat her hands from over-washing and send her to school with what looked like boxing gloves only for her to be confronted with profound bullying from her peers. Things rapidly snowballed to the point we knew we needed professional help.” At 11, Jessie crawled into bed with her parents and told them she didn’t want to live anymore. Steve reflected, “It was a crushing and hopeless situation.”
Steve (left) and Jessie (right)
The family worked together to find the right treatment team and once they felt like they started to have more of the OCD symptoms managed, Steve accepted a job transfer that moved them back to their home state. This move was made with good intentions, to reconnect the family with their community and a familiar setting, but it also led to disruption with Jessie’s treatment.
At 14, right around the time of the move, Jessie began self-injuring. Wanting to handle the situation on her own, Jessie hid her injuries. “I didn’t want people to know about my pain,” Jessie explained, “I didn’t share my emotions. I felt like I was piling brick after brick onto a wall I built between myself and my family.” When Steve found out about her self-injury, his heart sank. Instead of judging her, Steve showed empathy for Jessie’s pain and feelings of desperation.
As Jessie looks back, she believes OCD, anxiety, and stress led to her depression. She felt pressure to uphold a certain standard of health and wellness in front of her family and community. Over time Jessie’s emotional pain exceeded her ability to cope and she attempted to take her life. Within the next year of her first attempt, she attempted again with lack of hope for her future.
After the second suicide attempt, Steve was sitting by Jessie’s hospital bedside and remembers her saying, “Dad, I’m ready to embrace treatment, I need help.” Having tried many local treatment centers, Jessie and the family decided to try residential treatment out-of-state. This was a tremendously difficult decision, but ultimately a key element in Jessie’s recovery. She learned ways to better identify her feelings and cope with her overwhelming thoughts of anxiety and depression.
Now, Jessie is almost two years recovered from self-injuring. She focuses on exercising, connecting with her family, and keeping up with treatment to maintain her wellness.
Advice for Families and Caring Adults
Steve has five points that made the difference for his family in the recovery process.
- Intervene early. Steve shared, “The earlier you identify any behavior pattern that is outside of the norm, explore it.” If you’re concerned about a symptom your child is experiencing, don’t wait to see if it gets worse or resolves itself. Meet with your pediatrician or primary care provider for an evaluation and referral as needed.
- Make sure that home is a safe place. Focus on being open-minded to what your child shares with you. In addition to supporting Jessie, Steve made sure to share age-appropriate information with his other daughters so that they could support her as well.
- Be open to medical treatment. Steve’s family relied on different levels of care for treatment and left medication as an option if Jessie’s symptoms didn’t improve over time.
- Change the treatment team if needed. Change providers if you’re not happy with how the current team is addressing the areas of concern.
- Reach out for your own support sooner rather than later. Steve encourages caring adults to join a peer support group. People who have gone through similar experiences can provide tips and hope.
Jessie adds, “until your child decides s/he wants help, it will be hard to get through to them. So, be persistent. Tomorrow may be the day they have a change of heart.”
Jessie’s Message to People Living with Depression
“There is hope. I promise you there is hope in the midst of your pain. I did not see a future for myself, but I am here not just existing but truly living. In the end, it really is up to you to put in the effort for yourself. It is incredibly difficult, but nothing worth fighting for comes easy.”
- Watch our free Teen Self-Injury: Working Toward Healthy Coping Skills webinar to learn how caring adults can make a difference.
- Worried about a teen in your life? Learn how you can help.
- Want to start a conversation about mental health with your own family? Try using our Mental Health Family Tree as a conversation starter.