The figures released on Friday on young people being admitted to hospital are sadly just the tip of the iceberg, as many young people will be suffering in silence and not getting support or medical attention. The last data collected showed that one in 12 young people will self-harm at some stage in their lives but numerous studies have shown that this number has increased.
A young person may self-harm to help them cope with negative feelings, to feel more in control or to punish themselves. It can be a way of relieving overwhelming feelings that build up inside, when they feel isolated, angry, guilty or desperate.
Young people today are growing up in a harsh environment with ever increasing stress to perform at school, sexual pressures, next to zero job prospects and the constant pressure to keep up with the latest consumer trends. They live in a 24-7 online culture that is very stressful and we adults are struggling to keep up and support them in their online lives. When young people need help services often aren't there for them, they are mostly offline and generally only open from 9 to 5.
Stigma remains an issue with young people frightened to speak out and ask for help. We as a society have to get better at talking about mental health which for many is still considered a taboo subject, especially amongst some cultural groups. We revealed in our report 'Talking Self-harm' how parents, teachers and GPs felt that they didn't have the tools to communicate with young people about self-harm. Education has to be the key. We need to talk to children about how self-harm is really self destructive, we have to give them alternative positive coping mechanisms and we have to reduce the amount of stress and pressure we are putting on young people.
For too long self-harm has been dismissed as something that is just an issue for teenage girls. We have too recognise that this is an issue for boys as well. Boys may often self-harm differently to girls, they may bang their heads or punch walls, and often this is seen as just aggressive behaviour rather than self-harm. Both boys and girls are under a lot of pressure and we need to make sure help and support is available for both them and their families as soon as they need it.
Everyone should take responsibility for helping young people navigate the turmoil they experience, parents need the tools to give their children the necessary support, schools need to place much more emphasis on teaching emotional resilience and coping skills and services that intervene early when mental health problems first arise need to be given much greater priority and appropriate investment.
The YoungMinds Parents Helpline takes thousands of calls a year from parents and carers who are concerned about a young person self-harming. It is currently facing a funding crisis and will close if we don't raise the funds to keep it open. Please donate and help us to continue supporting the families of young people who are suffering distress, because mental health problems can destroy young people and their families too.
For more information, visit youngminds.org.uk/savethehelpline