This blog post is an excerpt from an article written by Nikki Giant for the magazine ‘Simply ChildSafe’. Learn more about safeguarding children and young people and subscribe to this excellent magazine at www.SimplyChildSafe.com
Self-harm is a growing problem in the UK, defined by the NHS as when somebody “intentionally damages or injures their body”. Self-harm can be caused by many different factors, including stress and anxiety, abuse, low self-esteem or the trauma caused by life events.
Self harm is often associated with cutting, but can take many forms including:
The UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, at 400 per 100,000 population (Clinical Medicine, 2002), and studies estimate as many as 10% of the population may have self-harmed in the past or may injure themselves on a regular basis. Self-harm is a growing problem facing our children and teens, though the statistics are often difficult to quantify as so many people are reluctant to reveal they are harming themselves, for fear of stigma and negative repercussions. ChildLine reported a huge increase in the number of young people contacting the helpline about self-harm in 2013 – a rise of 41 percent from 2011/12. Girls were 15 times more likely than boys to contact ChildLine about self-harm (ChildLine, 2013).
People self-harm for many reasons, in many different ways, and there will be no one way of providing help and support to a young person in need. Remaining non-judgemental, open to listening, and neutral to a young person’s story will facilitate dialogue and help youth to overcome some of the shame they may feel, a feeling often associated with self-harm.
Reports of self-harm create specific obligations for educators and youth professionals to follow, in accordance with their Child Protection or Safeguarding policy. Schools are advised to create a written protocol for dealing with reports of self-harm and to utilise the expertise of professional agencies and support services to help individual young people.
Samantha* self-harmed during her years at high school. Now in her thirties she recalls how little people understood, and the lack of support from school staff. Despite discovering her injuries once the school never checked to see if she had stopped harming, and of course she continued to do it. Paula* self-harmed as a form of control and self-punishment for the feelings of hate she felt towards herself for the way she looked. Beginning as a form of experiment, soon harming became a regular ritual.
Childhood and adolescence, despite its challenges, should be a time for self-exploration, fun and friendship. Instead, too many young people become mired with adult problems and preventable conditions. In an age where we fear the dangers and threats that lurk outside, we may need to begin our efforts closer to home to keep youth from harm.
For more information about self-harm visit:
Children and young people can speak to a trained counsellor by calling ChildLine on 0800 11 11 or online at www.childline.org.uk/talk
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity