In a recent article for the Daily Mail, child psychotherapist Louis Weinstock tackled this worrying escalation – and the reasons behind it. ‘These figures are shocking,’ he states. ‘Yet they show how more and more young people – typically adolescents, and three times more girls than boys – are turning to self-harm as a coping mechanism.’
Self-harm is a loose term, which can cover many types of self-injury: from the cutting or burning of one’s body, to self-poisoning, hair-pulling, and head-banging. And the number of children and young people committing such actions is rising sharply, as evidenced by recent figures from NHS Digital. Between 2005 – 2015, the number of under-18 girls needing hospital treatment after poisoning themselves rose by 42%; more worrying still, the number of girls treated after cutting themselves quadrupled during that time. ‘Dangerous though it is, [self-harm] can bring a sense of relief or control to a situation (internal or external) that feels confusing, overwhelming and beyond control,’ Weinstock explains.
What are the reasons behind this concerning trend? Is it merely the pressures of 21st-century life, or something more insidious? In Louis Weinstock’s expert view – having worked with a number of clients whose self-harming journey coincided with the commencement of major exams – the current education system isn’t helping. ‘Young people feel pressure to succeed at a young age, from their families and from the education system, which is still based on the Industrial-era factory model’ he comments. In addition, there is the system’s focus on ‘teaching things that can be measured and tested’, which only piles on the pressure. There’s also been a noted increase in adolescent cases of depression in recent years, with studies showing that one in ten boys aged 14, and one in four girls, are depressed.
Certainly, the wealth of current research goes some way toward dismissing the prevailing – and harmful – notion that self-harming is a form of attention-seeking. As Weinstock points out, several of his young clients engage in self-harming to deal with emotional distress: the death of a parent, perhaps, or family arguments. He cites the psychiatrist Armando Favazza, who ‘describes self-harm as a “morbid form of self-help”’, and the studies that ‘confirm’ her view: ‘the main reason people report engaging in self-harm is to reduce emotional distress. Another common reason is self-punishment, although either motivation can lead to a temporary sense of relief.’ But what can we do to help?
If you are concerned about your son or daughter, and want reassurance as to the best way to support them – should they be at risk of self-harming – experienced psychotherapist Louis Weinstock has shared some of his top tips.
Below are the key warning signs – and what to do next:
Coping with self-harm – advice from Louis Weinstock:
Louis Weinstock is a psychotherapist, coach and meditation teacher who specialises in working with children and families. For more information, visit louisweinstock.com.
All quotations and citations, unless otherwise indicated, have been reproduced with the kind permission of Louis Weinstock.