AS parents, we would never want to think of our children coming into harm.
But what if they were deliberately causing themselves that hurt?
Self-harm rates among children in the UK are on the rise – experts are warning parents of the signs to look out for[/caption]
It’s something millions of parents are facing as new figures show self-harm rates among young people have surged.
The suicide prevention charity Samaritans this week released its report showing that one in four women aged between 16 and 24 had self-harmed at some point.
Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress and while most people will not go on to take their own life, longer term self-harm is associated with developing thoughts of suicide, the charity says.
The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign last year to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage people to seek help if they’re struggling to cope.
This week we have turned the focus on the issues affecting young people, the social pressures they face and how it affects them.
The signs aren’t always easy to spot, but getting help early can prevent it from turning into a long-term problem.
Experts say these are some of the warning signs that might suggest your child is self-harming:
- Withdrawal or isolation from everyday life
- Signs of depression such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
- Changes in mood
- Changes in eating/sleeping habits
- Changes in activity and mood, e.g. more aggressive than usual
- Talking about self-harming or suicide
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Expressing feelings of failure, uselessness or loss of hope
- Risk taking behaviour (substance misuse, unprotected sexual acts)
- Signs of low self-esteem such as blaming themselves for any problems or saying they are not good enough
- Unexplained cuts, bruises or marks
- Covering up all the time, when in hot weather
- Being quieter than usual
- Lacking energy
Kelly Thorpe, head of helpline services at PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, told The Sun Online: “We see self-harm as something different to feeling suicidal or acting on suicidal thoughts.
“It’s usually used as a way for a young person to cope with overwhelming emotions.”
She added: “The signs are similar to the signs that someone might be depressed.
“So low mood, lack of motivation – often you find changes in behaviour so not being interested in things they were previously interested in, very withdrawn and not wanting to engage with other people.
WHY IS MY CHILD SUFFERING A MENTAL ILLNESS?
Things that increase the risk of a mental illness such as anxiety or depression in children include:
- family difficulties
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- a family history of depression or other mental health problems
- Sometimes it is triggered by one difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.
- Often it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have inherited a tendency to depression and also have experienced some difficult life events.
“Low self esteem in general, blaming themselves for anything that’s happening in their lives that’s totally out of their control, like the separation of parents.
“They may also feel like they’re not good enough – and this pressure can escalate around key dates, like exam time.
“There’s also more physical signs to look out for, so unexplained bruises.
“If you feel they might have hurt themselves that might not mean self-harming, but someone else is hurting them, so that’s something else to look out for.
“Obviously many young people self-harm and don’t experience thoughts of suicide, but many who feel suicidal do use self-harm to cope.”
Kelly said: “If you’re ever worried it’s best to ask that question really clearly.
“Asking any ambiguous questions like ‘are you thinking of your harming yourself’ doesn’t tell us if they’re feeling suicidal. It’s about being direct.”
It comes as new ONS figures revealed that suicide rates among young people has risen, with the number of young girls under 25 killing themselves is at record levels.
Asking any ambiguous questions like ‘are you thinking of your harming yourself’ doesn’t tell us if they’re feeling suicidal
A recent study for charity Young Minds found that 69 per cent of young people felt that body image had had a significant impact on their mental health.
Campaigners warn that the rise is down to new pressures young people are facing growing up in the digital age.
Julie Cameron, Head of Programmes at the Mental Health Foundation, told The Sun Online: “There’s an increasing pressure and expectation placed on young people.
“There’s pressure to conform and look and act a certain way, which means young people can’t be their true selves.
“Body image is not just about physicality, it’s about self worth and feeling less worthy than the next person.
“For some young people that unfortunately leads to feelings of conformity and can sometimes translate into bullying.”
She continued: “Undoubtedly, all of these things existed pre-social media, but it has only amplified it.
“Previously, they could leave school and go home and it would feel more of a safe haven.
“But even their bedrooms aren’t safe – there’s phones, tablets, computers – where they can worry about pressures.
“Among all of this, there’s an increase on expectations on young people to have good careers.
“There’s so much more emphasis to get exams done, to academically be the best, but for so many young people that’s not their skill set.
“Pressures come from schools because of league tables and undoubtedly due to peer pressure, especially online where you see only the best of people’s lives and not the struggles.”
As well as social media, Julie says that young people are becoming increasingly aware of the world around them and are feeling anxious about things beyond their control.
She added: “Young people are feeling pressure from exposure and knowledge to life events that so few of us have control over, such as terrorism or Brexit.
MORE FROM YOU'RE NOT ALONE
“The concept of this group of young people being ‘snowflakes’ is nonsense – they are under more pressure than society has ever put on them and they need to outwardly project to social media.
“This backdrop of stress can start affecting their sleep – which we know is important for concentration – which can feed into itself and manifest.
“All of this, in our view, is placed within a context of the last 10 years, where there’s been austerity, less support available to work with families and an increasing gap emerging for mental health services.”
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans (free) on 116 123.