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