The following post carries a < t.rigger_warning> for content. It also contains explicit images.
If you self harm and / or think you might be vulnerable, please think carefully before scrolling through this post.
I have spent the last 2 weeks re-drafting this to get it “right” and today I accepted, there is no right here. So I’ve turned off my head and am going to write from the gut. I want to get a point over, so I’m afraid I am not going to wrap the content in cotton wool.
The terrible fact is, that here, under our noses, in our own houses, schools and youth clubs and public toilets, kids are cutting, burning, pummeling, scratching, starving, and poisoning themselves. There are any number of reasons for this, not least, exposure to others who do it at school. It can be as simple as that. Please don’t say “This would never happen to my child … it could. It really could. Please, finish the post and look at the photographs below… this affects all of us – it could be any one of our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces, pupils or friends on them. Yes. It could.
Self harm is prevalent in both genders but tends to be more common in adolescent girls.
Personal exposure to self harm through my work over Christmas has stirred something in me which is so strong that I want to remind every parent, family member, friend and teacher of what a young person is truly capable when reaching the limits of their emotional capacity – both in terms of hurting themselves and, more to the point, in hiding it. Still reeling from the stories, the experiences, the feeling of desperation and hopelessness of so many girls, I hope that what I am about to share with you will bring home what each of us could potentially have to face – any of us, at any time, with any child.
A report issued by the mentalhealth.org.uk a few years ago (I am still looking for up-to-date statistics) publishes the following facts relating to self harm:
- Deliberate self-harm ranges from destructive behaviours with no suicidal intent, but which relieve tension or communicate distress, through to attempted suicide.
- The UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, at 400 per 100,000 population (these figs. were published in 2007; According to Alpine Connection Counseling, the US recorded a statistic of approx. one in 200 girls for 2011, based on around 666,000 ER visits, but claims this figure is undoubtedly much higher – the majority of sufferers struggle alone so the figures are extremely vague).
- There is a high correlation between self-harming behaviour and mental health problems. Most of those who attend an emergency department after self-harming would meet the criteria for one or more psychiatric diagnoses. More than two thirds would meet the criteria for depression.
- People with current mental health problems are 20 times more likely than others to report having harmed themselves in the past.
- People who have self-harmed are at significant risk of suicide.
- A study found that the risk of a person dying by suicide within a year of being treated for self inflicted injury was 66 times the annual risk of suicide in England and Wales, and that there is a significant risk even many years later
The girls I am in contact with allude to suicide regularly. They are being comforted by their online peers while, at the same time, promoting their pain by sharing images, feelings, dark thoughts and all the negatives of depression in an overwhelming tumult of “cameraderie” or “sistership”. Ironically, it is the feeling of close companionship with others through shared experiences which is crippling their own capacity for self-recovery; the more they seek help from others with the same issues, the more out of control their individual situation becomes. And so it goes on. Girls as young as 11 are not only cutting regularly, but modern technology is enabling them to keep and share a visual diary of their latest “handiwork” – posting images via mobile phone or laptop with messages which is immediately and usually publicly accessible across the web. And the audiences are increasing in size – Self harm has its own club, and the only thing you have to do to become a member, is self harm.
Girls as young as 11 are promoting suicide as an option-out as freely as a doctor might prescribe Paracetamol for a headache. Many have, at such a young age, already convinced themselves there is no other alternative, have given up the fight for life and, even if they want to address recovery, are generally too fearful to speak out and seek help. “Just attention seeking?” … actually no. Many of those who voice their intention to “put an end to their pain” are at serious risk. They are prepared to go the whole way and despite their mutual cajoling and heartfelt “Stay strong, we care, we love you” messages to others in a bad place, it is generally known that if they go down, they will take others with them. You know, I’m actually sure they do.
Some of the causes of self harm are listed as being:
- Personality disorders – Depression – Abnormal grief – Attention seeking – Eating disorders – Perfectionism – Mental illness – Deliberate – Experimental – Accidental – Feigned – Self-mutilation due to mental impairment – Overachieving personality – Schizophrenia – Suicidal thoughts (see Suicidal symptoms) – Wanting to die – Sexual abuse
Triggering from Eating Disorders
The majority of the girls I talk to are suffering from an overriding desire / need to be “skinny”. Some aspire to enter the modeling industry but have received feedback that they are “over-weight”. Almost all are inspired by “stars” and public figures. In striving in vain to “be like them”, they lose their own identity and with it all self-respect. They can neither emulate their idols, nor be happy with themselves as they are. They attempt (often secret) crash diets which invariably fail. Hunger and the ensuing feeling of physical weakness is a further cause of depression which can in turn lead to spontaneous binge eating. Back to square one and the resulting frustration turns to a passionate hatred of themselves which can trigger a craving for self-harm. Once caught up in such a cycle, the importance of other aspects of life – hobbies, going out, seeking “fun” and to a major extent, the will to change. wanes quickly and the only release to their pain, is, ironically, the infliction of more pain.
One thing is clear: advanced as we are technologically, we need to go back to grass roots with our children and take responsibility here – not just for our own offspring but for society in general. We often hear words such as “ah, they are just attention seeking, they need to just grow up and face their lives!” or “they don’t want to be helped, so leave them to do their thing… they’ll grow out of it” but actually, it is not as easy as that. Self-harming is an addiction, and, like any other addiction, is not so easy just to give up. These kids need professional help and / or, at the very least, a good deal of care, patience and some healthy alternatives to enable them to break the established routine of harming.
There are no rules as to the background or status – self harm can be triggered by any of the causes listed above and, particularly in the case of peer pressure, any child can be vulnerable if exposed.
Many girls cover up their cuts by wearing long sleeves or trousers. Cuts to the wrists may be hidden behind bracelets or bands. Some girls cut themselves in less exposed areas of the body such as the inner thighs, hips or stomach to avoid attention in PE or swimming.
Many of these girls are desperate for help. Many are desperate for help but cannot ask for it and do not trust anyone enough to seek professional advice.
The girls exposing their fears and their cuts online are generally anonymous and leave no hints as to their geographical whereabouts. If we can’t find them, our capacity as online support forums is limited to just that. ? ? Who are they ??
That’s where you come in. That’s where we all need to pull together and look out for our children.
Thank you for reading.
Self Harm Resources – Info and help
A comprehensive, factual site providing information, help and further resources for sufferers and carers:
Childline – Information and help resources for children and youths who self harm:
How to self-harm safely (information on sterilisation of blades, cleaning cuts and stemming bleeding):