We need to talk to kids about self-harm

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.

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We need to talk to kids about self-harm

5 thoughts on “We need to talk to kids about self-harm

  1. Wonderful blog, and I fully concur with your post. There is a wonderful book by Tantum & Huband “Understanding repeated self injury” that does an amazing job of explaining why people have such a bad reaction to hearing that someone has self injured and providing a theory of why it happens in the first place and why some people become repeated self injurers. I have loaned the book to some of my students who have also found it helpful.

  2. thelonelyoutcast says:

    I agree with you to some extent. The issues is here is how we teach children about mental health. It is one thing to tell people about but it is another to cope with it. When I first thought about mental illness I completely denied it exist because it always seemed to be the ‘white man’s problem’. Even when the media and people started to talk about mental health, again it re enforced the concept that it was a ‘white man’s problem’. My worry it that when you involve the government it might make it worse, espically for BME, than better.

    I am a black woman and I too suffer from depression. I denied for so long because of this stereotype and now it still seems that way.

    I hope that made some sense

    1. Yeah actually that does make sense. It’s weird that even though BME groups suffer from mental health problems just as much as people of other ethnicities, we just don’t see them represented in the media and stuff. I can totally see how the perception would arise from that that it’s just a white-person’s problem.
      I think that you can address that in education too, by teaching about how wide-ranging and indiscriminate mental health problems are, and about those underrepresented groups who still get mental health problems.

      1. thelonelyoutcast says:

        I seriously don’t believe that you can teach mental health, you can only experience it. I even tried to teach my friends but they were still very unsympathetic about mental health. People will always be unsympathetic about mental health because they can never grasp the true pain of the illness. Also, if a white person was to teach it to me then I wouldn’t listen to a word of it because of the stereotype. This is a very difficult and sensitive topic to teach and I just don’t feel that this is a viable and practical option to break the barriers down about the mental health stigma.

        However you can teach about wellbeing during times of stress or times of difficulty – especially GCSE and sixth form kids.

        However I really don’t have a solution 😦

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