Maté Bako discusses the deal with self harm
Self-harming behaviour in adolescents has risen dramatically in the past 10 years
It seems that there is an upward trend in young people being admitted to hospital after cutting, poisoning or burning themselves. According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of under 18-year-olds have tried to harm themselves in one way or another. These tendencies are more prevalent among girls, although there have been major rises in self-harming behaviour among boys as well.
“15% of under 18 year olds have tried to harm themselves in one way or another”
The reasons for why teenagers self-harm seem rather complicated. Self-harm is mostly associated with high levels of stress and anxiety at school. Bullying, physical or sexual abuse, children’s body-image fears, increasing sexualisation and high prevalence of borderline personality disorder are also linked with self-damaging behaviour. However, the truth is that in some occasions, young people might not even know exactly why they do it. Experts suggest that the key element can be found in how people deal with stress, or how they cope. Psychological coping mechanisms or skills generally refer to strategies that can reduce stress.
Coping can be adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive coping strategies generally involve confronting problems directly, recognising and changing unhealthy emotional reactions, and trying to prevent unfavourable effects on the body. Maladaptive coping includes self-harm, or using alcohol or drugs to escape problems. Unfortunately, many of the maladaptive coping strategies are claimed to be highly effective in reducing symptoms, at least in the short-term.
Working as a clinician, I often hear young people say that they struggle to express their emotions, and consequently pressure builds up and becomes unbearable. Some of them take it out on themselves and use their bodies as a way to express the thoughts and feelings they can’t say aloud. Many of my patients share the same experiences:
“Sometimes it all gets too much… It’s like an overflow, and I just feel that I can’t take it anymore, so I cut myself. And then I feel relieved. But usually not for too long… It all comes back again.”
There are lot of different methods of self-harming, which are sometimes not as obvious as assumed. From cutting yourself and over-eating or under-eating, to picking or scratching at your skin, and drug overdose, these are all forms of self-harm. Apparently, over half of the people who commit suicide have a history of self-harm.
As a consequence, it is particularly important to raise awareness of this growing maladaptive behaviour, especially because the UK has the highest self-harm rate of any country in Europe. Not to mention that the figures are likely to be higher as many people who self-harm do not tell anyone about it.
“The UK has the highest self-harm rate of any country in Europe”
The good news is that people suffering from self-harm can get appropriate help in a number of ways. They could contact their GP, or participate in talking treatments or support groups through mental health services. There are also a great deal of secure and professional online support available (e.g. National Self Harm Network, Self-injury Support, The Mix ), or for suicide telephone hotlines such as Samaritans – 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI)
Alternatively you can talk to SU advice on campus for more help and support.
There are lots of things anyone can do to make a difference to someone who self-harms. Right attitude and how you relate to them is one of the key things that can help them feel supported. Here are some useful things to keep in mind:
• Let the person know that you are there for them
• Try not to be judgemental
• Relate to them as a whole person, not just their self-harming behaviour
• Show empathy and understanding about what they are going through
• Let them be in control of their decisions
• Offer to help them find support
• Remind them of their positive qualities and things they do well
This is the sixth article in a weekly column on current issues and topics of general knowledge and interest, run by Marthe Rossaak. If you are interested in contributing, please email your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org