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Category: Mental Health

Self harm in Teens- How to help

If you are a teenager in significant distress, you may feel the urge to self harm. This often happens when things are too painful to handle and you are unsure of how else to deal with your pain. Young Minds say that sometimes it can feel like the ‘only way to let those feelings out’, even though in reality there is support out there for you. Social media showing others self harming can also unfortunately encourage you to harm yourself as a way of coping, particularly if you are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illness.

The charity Young Minds notes that 10% of 15-16 year olds self harm and it is very common, affecting one in 12 people in the UK.

The NSPCC adds that, ‘For many young people, self harm can feel like a way to cope with difficult feelings or to reduce tension. The physical pain of hurting themselves can feel like a distraction from the emotional pain they’re struggling with.’

They go on to say that if you have depression or anxiety, low self esteem or feeling unworthy, been bullied or feel lonely, have experienced abuse (sexual, emotional, physical) or neglect, are grieving or struggling with family relationships or are feeling angry, numb or out of control, then these are risk factors for self harming. Sometimes illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia will feature self harm behaviours. 

Self harming behaviours will bring only temporary relief to mental health problems and can be dangerous. There are healthier ways to cope and recover if you already self harm- there is a way to get better.

Psycom says that ‘Helping teens recover from self-harm is understanding why they do it in the first place. There isn’t a simple answer to this question but, in general, some teens use self-harm to relieve tension by stimulating endorphins while others use self-harm to feel physical pain instead of emotional numbness. Stress and pressure, anxiety, and depression are all associated with self-harm in adolescence.’

So as a parent, guardian or friend of another teen you are concerned about, What are the signs to look out for?  

Signs will vary from person to person but may include:

1) Wearing long sleeves and covered clothing all the time and being secretive when undressing- this may be to hide self harm scars, cuts or bruises. 

2) Unexplained bruises, cuts and scars on their body (this could also be a sign of abuse from another person). Wounds that don’t seem to heal and get worse over time.

3) Talking frequently about harming themselves and self injury behaviours  and watching self harm videos (or following Instagram accounts).

4) Collecting sharp items for self harm use.

5) Avoidance of friends and family, spending more time at home.

6) Depression, low self esteem and self blame.

7) Finding blood stains on clothing or blood in their room/ in tissues and bandages. If they are stockpiling bandages too this is a worry.

8) Engaging in risky behaviours such as drinking or drug taking and outbursts of anger.

How can we help a young person who is self harming and needs treatment?

If you are the young person- Talk to someone you trust- your GP or psychiatrist, a parent, relative, teacher or another trusted friend. The best thing to do is speak to your doctor as they will have seen this before.

You may also need an assessment with the Children and Adolescent Mental health services (CAMHS) as your self harm could be part of wider mental illness/ distress. 

In the immediate- if you have injuries that need treating and you can’t sterilise it yourself, speak to a trusted family member or go straight to your doctor or walk in centre. If you are very injured, you will need to stem blood flow and go straight to Accident and Emergency in hospital, if your GP can’t treat it themselves.

As a parent you will need to provide emotional support,  unconditionally as they adapt to recovering from self harm behaviour. Your teen will be in emotional pain  and need empathy as they try to break the addictive cycle that self harm can bring.

Psycom recommends making time to connect one to one, helping your teen to destress and have a slower, calmer schedule as they recover (including relaxing activities such as walking, mindfulness and reading ), speaking to a school counsellor or psychiatrist and accompanying your teen to appointments and creating a list of friends or professionals to phone.

With early identification and good support networks, self harm behaviours can be managed. It is important to seek professional help.

Helplines such as the Samaritans 116 123 can be of help to people managing self harm behaviours.  Young Minds and Childline also have crisis text lines and see the Mix and Me Two apps too. At Teen Calm, we send subscription boxes to teens struggling with anxiety and mental health conditions. See more at www.teencalm.com

Self care for Teens

Self care is important for anyone of any age, but in our teen years as our bodies and minds are constantly changing and adapting, it is vital. Self care is looking after your physical and emotional health and this can be any activity that assists with making you feel happy, healthy and positive.

Everyone has varying methods of self care. Some love to take soothing bubble baths, others enjoy exercise such as yoga or running and find it relaxing. Some want to spend time with friends or family face to face or go on day trips. For other people, self care could be curling up with a good book or TV show, meditating to clear your mind or partaking in a much loved hobby or craft, promoting mindfulness.

Practising self care can not only improve your own mental health, but it also helps relieve the pressures on yourself and family life too. As a teen it can sometimes be challenging relating to your parents and arguments can be frequent, particularly if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, school friendships or relationships. Self care activities can help calm you and assist a positive atmosphere.

Whitney Bell at Teen Vogue says,

‘Self care isn’t always bubble baths and pretty candles, sometimes it’s just getting out of bed, taking a shower, and reminding yourself how amazing you are. Self-love is meeting yourself exactly where you are at with compassion and love. It is knowing what serves you, and removing the things that don’t. Our worth isn’t determined by the clothes we wear, or by how many people have crushes on us.

Outside validation might feel great for a second but it will quickly pass. Everyone’s mental health journey is their own…Allow space for your growth and remind yourself of your worth by investing in your health, your head, and your heart.’

Many teens struggle with self esteem and self worth as they develop into adults. It is important to focus on mindful techniques like repeating positive affirmations about yourself such as ‘I am worthy’ or ‘I am enough’. Some recommend saying these daily to yourself in the mirror or writing them out in a journal.

What can help promote better mental health and self care?

1) Get out in nature

In the busy technology focused world we live in, nature can be very soothing. A walk in the park, on the beach or by a lake can help calm and relax us. The fresh air and exercise can also help to clear the mind. Similarly, gardening has a soothing effect, especially if you are growing a bright happy plant like sunflowers. Try it for yourself.

2) Spend time with friends or family

This could be face to face over a cup of tea, if you feel able. If you are struggling with a mental health condition and feel up to it, you can video chat or talk on the phone to friends. Human contact makes us feel connected, less isolated but make sure it’s with a good friend and people you trust, that support you and make you feel good.

3) Learn a new hobby to beat stress

You could learn a new creative craft like sewing or knitting or if fashion and beauty is more your thing, take a make up course. You may want to take up a sport or if you like writing and social media, start a blog or Youtube channel. Whatever it is, it should help with your self care and not make you more stressed! Mindful crafts can be very healing. Other activities that help with distracting the mind include reading a good book or listening to calming music.

4) Take care of your physical health to boost mindset

Make sure you look after your physical care too- a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet and go to sleep at the same time each day. If you struggle with this, reach out to your support network to help if you have insomnia or anxiety. Listening to sleep hypnosis, deep muscle relaxation or a guided meditation can really help you to switch off at night. Additionally, if you are a teen struggling with an eating disorder, your self care could mean you need to reach for further support and speak to a specialist to help you. Additionally, make sure to stay away from drugs and alcohol, which can be depressants.

5) Its OK to let it out, cry or journal

If you are going through a hard time, it’s good to talk and most importantly to cry to release those pent up emotions. You can also write in a private journal about how you are feeling or talk to a trusted friend or parent. Don’t bottle it up as it will make you feel worse. In addition to regular self care, it is vital to speak to your GP or psychiatrist if you are struggling. You may need medication or to be referred for therapy, two other very important forms of self care. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.

See this Mind page for a list or organisations that can help you.

Teen Calm is a subscription box for anxious teens, learn more at www.teencalm.com

Helping Teens with Depression

As you enter your teen years, lots of changes can occur. Hormones, new expectations at school and in relationships can put pressure on you, making you feel sad, emotional and exhausted. Did you also know that in some cases, this can lead to depression? Depression is a mental health condition that can sap your energy, increase anxiety and cause changes in your sleep and eating patterns. In very bad cases, it can cause you to stop attending school or college, impact on functioning and cause frightening thoughts of self harm. 

It is still unclear why depression often starts in teen years, although doctors believe that the chemical changes at puberty can cause changes in brain chemistry which can lead to depression. Additionally, there is evidence that it could run in families and often can be triggered by a stressful or traumatic life event.

If you are struggling with depression and you want some tips on how to manage it as a teenager or are a parent of one, look no further.

The NHS says,

Depression is more than simply feeling fed up or unhappy for a few days…when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months  Some people think depression is trivial and not a real health condition. They’re wrong. It is a real illness with real symptoms. Depression is not a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’. The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery.’     

1) How do I know it’s depression?

It is normal for teenagers to ‘act out’, behave badly and be more grumpy or sad than usual as this is part of life transition. However, depression is greater than that- it takes over the mind, making them despairing, angry, very low and overwhelmed. They may be more tearful and start thinking negatively about themselves (low self esteem) and others. Common thoughts are feeling shame, failure and lack of worth, due to the depression. 

Signs to look out for are if you or your teen is withdrawing from friends and family and spending lots of time alone. Depression causes low energy and motivation, meaning socialising often takes a back seat, especially if anxiety is also present. 

Other symptoms of depression include hopelessness, irritability, frequent crying or tearfulness , fatigue, difficulty concentrating, not coping at school or home, sensitivity to criticism, aches and pains, self harm thoughts- including thoughts of suicide.  Some may use drugs or alcohol to mask the pain of depression or get involved with the wrong crowd, but this doesn’t happen in every case. 

If your teen is entering crisis point with their depression and is harming themselves, suicidal or engaging in reckless behaviour, please seek professional advice from a GP or psychiatrist who are qualified to diagnose depression.

The most important thing is noticing any ‘out of character’ behaviour. Sometimes depression can happen alongside other mental health conditions too. 

2) Communication  

It is vital as a parent of family member to keep lines of communication open as depression needs treatment as soon as possible. If you are concerned, then speak to your teen in a loving, kind way about it. Keep dialogue open with them and ask them what is going on for them and how they are feeling. You must listen  patiently and not ask too many questions. This help guide says that you should focus on:

Listening not lecturing- don’t pass judgement on what you are hearing from your teen and let them know you are there for them unconditionally.

Acknowledge their feelings and help them to feel safe and secure.

Trust your gut about what you are being told and work with your teenager, help them gently to move forward without being too pushy or patronising. 

3) Treatment and Help  

Depression can be across a wide spectrum from mild to severe. Depending on the symptoms your teen is experiencing, a doctor may recommend a wide range of treatments. If it is very mild, a doctor may recommend ‘watchful waiting’, to see if it goes away on its own, coupled with attending group therapies. However, if it is more severe and affecting daily functioning and the patient is very ill, a doctor would prescribe anti depressant medication (such as SSRIs) and refer you to talking therapies such as CBT- cognitive behavioural therapy, a therapy challenging negative thought patterns and behaviour. Anti depressants boost the production of serotonin in the brain.

If the depression is severe or not responding to treatment, your GP can refer you to a specialised mental health team for treatment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. In the NHS, this will be under CAMHS.  This could mean taking different medication that’s right for you, but is all trial and error. If you need to get private treatment yourself, you can but it is expensive in the UK.

Exercise is also meant to help boost the production of seretonin and making small lifestyle changes e.g removing stressors, sleep hygiene for good sleep and looking at diet can also help.

If you are worried about a teen with depression and/or other symptoms of illness, please seek medical advice and involve the child’s school and teachers too. They should know they are never alone and they can be helped. Depression in teens can be treated.

Teen Calm subscription box is a new monthly treat box for those with depression and anxiety. See more here

Anxiety in Teens

Our teen years can be a time of fun, friends and parties. But they can also be a time of increased anxiety and vulnerability to mental health issues. We know that as children enter their teen years, there is an increased risk of anxiety and depression (and other mental illness), due to life and bodily changes.  As a teen, you want to fit in with your friends and developing anxiety during this time can mean that you feel different from others, even though it is very common. 

So what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to life stress, involving mind and body. It can be a survival system, when we perceive a danger or threat.  As a teen, you may be experiencing pressure with exams at school or stress at home, you are growing up and changing to become an adult and life can feel difficult. Things like dating or public speaking, making and sustaining friendships, money worries, become a priority, but they can be anxiety provoking- causing sensations such as racing heart, insomnia, shaking or blushing.

It can also lead to hyperventilation (shallow breathing), headaches and in worst cases, panic attacks. Adrenaline and cortisol ,a stress hormone, surge through the body, causing a reaction to the perceived stress.  This means sometimes that you may not interact with your family or your friends, isolating yourself and wanting to be alone. You may also have a change to eating habits or sleep or have stomach aches. 

A small amount of anxiety can be good as it motivates us to keep going despite pressure. However, in some people, it can turn into an anxiety disorder. 

What if it becomes an anxiety disorder? 

For some teens, anxiety gets taken a step further and becomes a key part of a mental health disorder such as anxiety disorders and phobias, depression or illnesses like PTSD.  Anxiety disorders can interrupt every day functioning, disrupting relationships at home, school and with friends, your teen may stop attending school if their anxiety is very high. There may also be a significant impact to academic grades and feeling overwhelmed with workload and life in general.  

Panic attack symptoms can seem very frightening, causing chest pain, hyperventilation, upset stomach, feeling like you are dying or having a heart attack, numbness or tingling, for example. It’s important that if your teen is experiencing panic attacks, to go to your GP and see if you can get a referral to CAMHS services. Therapy may be needed to provide strategies to cope.    

In 2018, NHS Digital and Young Minds released figures that said that 1 in 8 children in the UK aged between 5 and 19 has a diagnosable mental health condition. They also said that nearly a quarter of young women aged 17-19 has an emotional disorder and that the prevalence of those experiencing anxiety in the UK had increased by 48% from 2004 in 2017.

So, we know that teens are struggling with their mental health. More cases are being reported and as the stigma towards illness is falling, more are speaking out and reaching for support.

There is still not much known on the origin of anxiety disorders- it could be down to brain chemistry and genes (if your parent has suffered from a mental illness, you are more likely to) or down to life stress and circumstances. A teen experiencing a traumatic event could then go on to develop a mental health condition. 

How can you help?

Helpful strategies include encouraging self care- listening to calming music, good sleep practices, listening to relaxation recordings (guided meditations), making sure your teen is eating and drinking enough and sees their doctor or therapist . It is helpful to go with them to your doctor or find a therapist to help too. They can also call the Samaritans for non judgemental chat on 116 123.

It’s vital to speak to school and teachers to see if support can be given in terms of managing workload, friendships and emotional support during the school day, in order to ease them slowly back to attendance or more support.

If you worry that your teen is at crisis point (self harming or feeling suicidal for example) or you are a teen in crisis, it is important to speak to your doctor or local CAMHS team. If you are under a psychiatrist, it is best to go through their crisis team to seek support. In worst cases, you may have to go to Accident and Emergency. There are waiting lists for CAMHS, so you may need to seek private treatment if possible for you.

We created Teen Calm to help teens with anxiety, being part of a network of young people. For more on Teen Calm subscription box to help your teen see: www.teencalm.com 

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