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Self harm - time to bust the myths

Self-harm, also referred to as self-injury, is a commonly misconstrued issue that occurs when a person inflicts an injury upon themselves as a way of dealing with stress, anxiety or periods of unease. It is frequently associated with adolescents, and in fact, recent figures show that it is impinging on younger people more than ever before. Child Line reported that self-harm was in the top five concerns for 14 year olds for the first time in 2011/12, but in the first six months of 2012/13, this age dropped further appearing for the first time in the top five concerns for 13 year olds.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, with 400 in every 100,000 people harming themselves. People with ongoing mental health problems are 20 times more likely to report having harmed themselves previously.

This year’s Self Injury Awareness Day, taking place on Saturday 1st March, will be focused on dispelling the myths which surround the problem.

For example, while self-harm is a problem more often faced by females, this is not exclusively the case, and figures from June 2012 to June 2013 actually revealed 4,000 hospital admissions in 15-19 year old boys related to self-harm, in comparison with 13,400 girls. Males who self-inflict an injury are much less likely to talk about it with peers, or even admit to self-harming at all, which can lead to an increase in their level of distress and difficulty.

Furthermore, most self-harm is not suicidal in intent but more often serves as a temporary relief from feelings of depression or self-loathing. Over time, however, if young people suffer alone and do not receive the support they may need, their levels of risk can increase and they may then pose a much higher risk to themselves, as in the tragic death of teenage Tallulah Wilson.

Dr David Kingsley, Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal, who runs a national specialist service for self-harming girls said: “Self-harming behaviour certainly seems to be on the increase, particularly amongst younger teenagers. Self-harm used to be a taboo subject that young people kept secret. This meant that they often felt isolated and alone with their difficulties. Chat rooms and internet discussions have opened the whole subject up and, whilst this can make it easier for young people to find support from like-minded peers, it also has big disadvantages. Young people can find themselves accessing sites that encourage more serious and risky self-injury and they are also vulnerable to cyber-bullying from peers who don’t understand them. It also means that self-harm has become more mainstream and some young people, who may otherwise have found other ways of expressing their distress, may now think about harming themselves instead.”

He continued: “It can be really hard for a young person to tell people about their self-harm as they worry that they will make people frightened or angry, or that they will be stigmatised. Parents and teachers need to understand more about self-harm so that they are able to respond in a supportive way that helps the young person to begin seeking help for their difficulties, rather than pushing them further underground. Many teenagers who self-harm will not need to access professional services – support from family, friends or school may be enough. However, in more severe cases, it is also important that young people feel able to access professional help in a non-threatening way so they can address their difficulties before they become life-threatening.”

ChildLine, Youthnet, and YoungMinds are campaigning together on Self Injury Awareness Day, 1st March 2014 and this is the third year of the campaign.

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