Recently self-harm made national news once again, only this time it was the results of an online survey that was of concern. The poll had found that bullying was the primary cause of self-harm for most of the under-25s surveyed, closely followed by family relationships, pressure to do well at school, emotional abuse and friendships.
This is nothing new to those who have had contact with self-harmers, perhaps, but it was refreshing nonetheless to see the national media focusing on the experiences of those who self-harm and promoting awareness of a growing issue. Yet it made me reflect on my own experiences of school and self-harm, and raised an important question – why do we not educate young people about self-harm?
I never really understood self-harm and knew so little about it, until I started doing it myself when I was 13 in response to years and years of bullying. I’d never meant to, but it kinda made me feel normal; I felt better able to cope through the day-to-day bullying, and it made me feel like a nicer person because I was calmer. Swiftly I found self-harm become almost an addiction – I had to do it every day, just to face the world – and my friends, teachers, and eventually my family, found out.
What surprised me was that at no point did we have a class talk about mental health and self-harm in school. Not even when students were being taken to A&E for self-harming, or placed in therapy, and frequently came in with scars and marks. The first and only time it was even acknowledged was in a GCSE history lesson, in a causal reference to the sense of euphoria that comes with blood loss. When the teachers discovered someone had been self-harming, their only response was a look of pity or disgust; it’s highly questionable if they had a clue what they were supposed to do.
Alright, I went to a very bad school, so my experiences might not be that representative. Except research by mental health charities such as Rethink Mental Illness seem to agree that not enough is being done to spot emerging mental health problems in young people, or educate young people about issues of mental health in schools. This is pretty striking considering that self-harm appears to be on the rise, and that the earlier problems are spotted and dealt with the greater the chances of recovery for individuals.
In my opinion a greater coordinated effort should be made by media outlets, the Department of Education, and health services to educate the general public about self-harm and wider mental health issues, in a positive, non-judgemental way. Young people shouldn’t have to suffer for so long in silence.