Have you ever heard your child say that they’re stupid? Have you ever seen them pull at their hair in anger?
It’s normal for all children to feel frustrated as we do as adults, but it’s time we had the conversation that if they are beginning to punish themselves and think badly of themselves, there is help out there and it doesn’t have to be the norm.
According to Young Minds website, “It is a very common behaviour in young people and affects around one in 12 people with 10% of 15-16 year olds self-harming”. I think that statistic is probably higher, because self-harm by its nature is a secretive act and I have never taken part in any survey that has asked whether I self-harm or not. It can only ever be a generalised statistic and something that, as with many statistics, can never believe completely due to the nature of relying on people expressing the truth rather than factual hospital admissions of self-harm for example.
As someone who has attended the Mental Health First Aid two-day course, I have realised that self-harm is not just the act of cutting and actually it can be anything that causes harm to your body. The most commonly talked about is cutting, which is referred to as self-harm, but on top of inducing pain by hair pulling, burning and scolding water amongst a few, there is actually the harm many do to themselves through substance abuse, eating disorders and a range of other things. Anything that someone does to punish themselves, or to cause pain or suffering to themselves, is a form of self-harm.
What’s scary is that with more than one in 10 probably self-harming at secondary school, and one in four people at some point suffering with mental illness, is that it is still not common place to be discussed at work and school. Children are not educated around it and while they are educated on substance abuse, contraception and many other aspects in school, this is an issue that not only seems to be missed, but ignored in fear of it causing others to self-harm. It was actually only in 2017 that sex education was made compulsory in all schools, not just council-run schools.
The Guardian only published this week that hospital admissions through self harm has doubled over 20 years, and this is for girls under 18. Surely this is another sign to show we should look to raise this as an issue in social and wellbeing lessons in schools of all ages? Just as we teach children not to hurt each other, or to say cruel things from an early age, we should incorporate this learning with teaching children not to hurt themselves or to say cruel things to themselves. This will not stop all self-harm, but it will start the conversation being open from a much younger age.
I don’t feel that the responsibility is solely that of any one person, or organisation, but it’s about time parents and our Government give teachers the training and resources to open up age-appropriate discussions, that will prepare them for life and not just focus on the key words they must be able to understand and write. As parents we also have to take responsibility that just as we wouldn’t want our children to be bullies or be bullied, we need to make sure they know that bullying themselves isn’t right either and there is help and support out there.
If you need support for you or a child or young person you know, please contact Call the Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm, free for mobiles and landlines) or their website https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/ or you can call Childline on on 0800 1111 or the Samaritans on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.