The epidemic of self harm in young people

The BBC  have obtained figures that suggest a rise of 20% in one year alone in the admission of young people to hospital following an episode of self harm. The PMHA did a survey last year that supports the idea of a rapid rise in these admissions,  suggesting that this finding is genuine. So why are more young people self harming,  and what can be done about it?
It’s impossible to generalise about why young people self harm. Some feel that the physical pain of cutting is preferable to the psychological state that they find themselves in, others use taking an overdose as a way to tell people how hopeless or angry they feel. The thing that seems to unite people who self harm is a psychological state that they find so unbeatable that they feel, even for a short time, like they would prefer the pain and/or risk of harm of a self harm episode to their current situation.
So an increase in self harm means an increase in the number of young people in these situations, at least to some extent. What has changed?
Well, when asked, for instance by Young Minds, young people talk about pressure. Pressure from school, to behave, to succeed or to conform. Pressure from peers to be a certain way in order to be popular. Pressure from the media to have a certain body, clothes or sexual habits. They talk about feeling isolated, including in their own families. And when they want to talk to someone , there is often no one to talk to. Any attempt to improve the situation needs to start from this perspective.

So, here’s our wish list

  • Young people can educate themselves about self harm at selfharm.co.uk, and look out for their peers.
  • Parents can talk to their children about mental health, feelings, and pressure, and make time in the day when no-one is staring at a screen, to give a chance for conversation. It’s often easier to bring up issues while doing something else, which may be one reason why shared activities as a family are associated with better wellbeing all round. Young Minds have an parent helpline, which can help if you’re worried.
  • Schools are under huge pressure. But they can act as great detectors of early problems, as well as providing counselling and other services.
  • Health services need to reach out to education and to parents, provide support and training, and respond promptly when young people get into difficulty.
  • Government needs to fund mental health adequately, and commit (all parties) to implement the forthcoming mental health taskforce recommendations.

We hope that things have got as bad as they are going to for young people’s mental health. Only by concerted effort by everyone listed above can even this rather meagre hope be realised.

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