Self-harm among teenagers has become so prevalent that one school asked pupils to sign a contract confirming they would not self-harm while on the premises, and would cover up their wounds in the event that they did.
“I understand that I am being asked to refrain from cutting or hurting myself in any way whilst in school, as I am here to learn,” the contract, seen by HuffPost UK, read.
It then listed seven responses if children were found to have hurt themselves at school, including those students being told to keep self-harm scars hidden, even in summer, and/or being removed from PE lessons.
The contract is no longer in use after charity Addaction warned it might make students less likely to reach out for help. The charity didn’t want to name the school, as they run a self-harm programme with pupils there. “The tone was all wrong,” Rick Bradley, Addaction’s operations manager, told HuffPost UK.
“We should be encouraging young people not to feel ashamed, embarrassed or worried to access support when they are struggling. This ‘contract’ seemed more intent on keeping self-harm hidden rather than offering help.”
Even if the school’s intentions were good, its approach risked causing further harm, Bradley argued. “Anything that increases stigma simply presents more barriers for those thinking of accessing support,” he said. “It makes it more likely that young people will struggle in silence, increasing potential risks.”
HuffPost UK recently reported exclusively on a new report which revealed one in five teenage girls think about hurting themselves some or all of the time.
Cases of self-harm do appear to be rising in schools: one secondary teacher told HuffPost UK their school had banned pencil sharpeners to prevent students from using the blades to hurt themselves.
“There is often a fear of contagion when it comes to self-harm,” said Bradley. “If one young person is cutting for instance, the worry is that other students will follow suit, almost like a trend.”
But most young people that Addaction works with as part of its support programme for teens at risk of self harm, are in fact anxious about what will happen if they open up about harming themselves.
Recent research from the University of Manchester found that among teenage girls aged 13-16, cases rose by 68 per cent between 2011 and 2014.
Between 1997 and 2017 the number of girls admitted to hospital for self-harm almost doubled, jumping from 7,327 to 13,463, NHS data shows, while admissions for boys stayed relatively constant – 2,236 in 1997 to 2,332 in 2017.
Hannah Kinsey, head of training and services at YoungMinds, told HuffPost UK: “We advise teachers to remember that self-harm isn’t ‘attention-seeking’, and that every young person who self-harms needs support.”
She said there should be a “whole-school approach” where all staff have training on self-harm and mental health issues.
“And it can also be helpful to ensure that self-harm is explored as an issue in PSHE or RSE lessons,” she adds.
“Self-harm needs to be taken seriously and risks should be assessed by appropriately trained individuals such as a school nurse or health professional, and safeguarding procedures should be followed.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.