A couple of months ago, I read an article on The Guardian website about self-harm and I was shocked to the core about how commonplace it is among young people. Self-harm really is more common than we think and it is becoming more prevalent.
According to a World Health Organisation collaborative study, the last decade has seen a threefold increase in the number of teenagers who self-harm – 20% of 15-year-olds have said that they’ve self-harmed over the past year. However, what is especially saddening to me is that the number of girls self-harming is significantly higher than the number of boys. This raises the question, why do females seem to deal with stress in a negative way, or is it that they have a greater obsession with being in control?
Self-harm is usually related to control or managing stress in the short-term, which are two factors that will greatly affect young people throughout their time in education. Education can be extremely stressful, especially when living within a society that is obsessed with making money and getting the best (or should we say highest paid) job possible. This stress increases during A-levels, as they strive to get into a good university, and then during university as they work towards getting a job, which may not even come into fruition.
This is a difficult time for young people and it seems that they will do anything to get their control back, but self-harm signifies a problem with their emotional and/or mental health that needs to be addressed before it gets any worse. The element of control with self-harm also begins to decline after a while, as you can become so consumed by it that you are unable to get a grip on the will to stop, despite how much you may want to.
Self-harm was the tool I used to make myself feel better, as I took out my anger and hurt on myself, by transforming my emotional pain into physical pain. It was my way of taking the control back from other people, but ultimately it made me feel worse about myself and my scars only reminded me of the pain I had felt. No matter how many times I told myself that I was done for good, something would make me return to the blade and want to watch the oozing blood that would bring me comfort.
Eventually, I stopped self-harming and I have no desire to do it again, but I know that it is a problem that will stay with me for the rest of my life. However, there are many young people who continue to self-harm and find themselves unable to stop, mainly because they feel unable to talk to someone or because there is not enough help in place. In this time of need, youth mental health services are being cut, which is unacceptable because the health of our youth is extremely important.
In May 2013, self-harm was recognised as a diagnosis across Europe, which is both a good and bad sign, but the majority of people self-harming do not make themselves known to the clinical services. Our society needs to be more forthcoming and understanding of self-harm, which will make the likelihood of young people coming forward much higher.
In The Guardian’s article, Dr Jacqueline Cornish, national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, who is responsible for the Camhs service, says: “It is vital we have the right services in place when children, young people or indeed adults need them. But this must be combined with greater public understanding of the reasons why someone might self-harm and how to get help.”
There seems to be greater support for self-harmers, with the increase in blogs and websites, such as selfharm.co.uk. However, we really need to get to the bottom of why there has been such a large increase in the number of young people self-harming, so that we can work out how we can turn it around. It is essential for us to start making the mental and emotional health of our young people a number one priority.