I don’t want to trigger anyone, so WARNING this post contains some details of my self harm experiences and injuries.
Young people (under 18’s) seeking treatment for self harm has gone up by 14% in 3 years.
This number only includes people going to hospital for treatment, but what about those who self harm and never seek treatment? How much has the percentage really gone up? It’s an impossible figure to obtain, but it does make you think.
Every radio show discussing self harm in young people seems to be looking for one definitive answer. I don’t think it is possible to find one. Every person’s self harm story is different, with different circumstances and reasons, with mental illness or none.
The self harm statistics do show that self harm is at its highest when the gap between the rich and poor is at its greatest. This makes sense to me: if it’s hard to get work, food on the table or keep a roof over your head, you’re going to be under much more stress and pressure. This in turn makes self harm more and more likely. There’s also social media, which puts an extreme amount pressure on young people. It can cause insecurities, depression, loneliness and cyberbullying. Perhaps also it provides a private space for people to become more aware of self harm, and maybe more likely to try it themselves. I’m not so sure about that idea though!
I am most definitely no longer a ‘young person’, but I was at one point! All I know for sure are my own circumstances and reasons, and how I was ‘treated’ when I was young.
Why I self harmed changed over the years and I believe it is important to seek this understanding in our patients in order to help them the best we can.
Ages 6-15: 6 is apparently super young to start, I didn’t do it very often at all, but I did do it. I was (still am) really sensitive, I didn’t really know what to do with all my emotions. Any turbulence in the home I took on board. I remember feeling what I now recognise as depression, but I couldn’t explain it to my Mom. I think it was just a way of me putting my internal upset onto the outside where I could take care of it. No one knew that I did this, I would patch myself up. It was never for attention.
Main reason – just not knowing what to do with or how to cope with my feelings.
Ages 16-22: I was most definitely suffering bipolar at this point. 6 long years of near constant extreme mood cycling. I hurt myself a lot, and it got more extreme over the years. I harmed when up in an attempt to ground myself, I harmed when depressed, I harmed in the few moments I was ok because I was embarrassed and ashamed of how I had behaved and how I felt. I didn’t have many friends, (the few I had are total gems and still my good friends today!) people could be really mean and freeze me out of the group, so I felt quite hated and isolated alongside being seriously mentally ill.
Main reason – undiagnosed mental illness.
I got diagnosed at 22, so was technically no longer a young person at that point. And after diagnosis things on the self harm front slowly improved.
Now the sad thing is, that no one seemed to take me seriously. I spoke to many Drs- one of them told me I couldn’t possibly be depressed as I had a boyfriend! I mean REALLY?!?!?! One tried, but didn’t listen to me properly and just put me on antidepressants that made the whole situation much much worse. A&E departments treated me appallingly. One time my stiches came out and they accused me of pulling them out – I hadn’t. One refused to stitch me as I was a self harmer. One didn’t want to numb me. One didn’t care that I’d lost some of the movement range in my wrist. They spoke meanly about me well within my earshot. I was just treated poorly and sent on my way. I was never asked any questions, no miniature basic mental health assessment, nothing. I moved into a different area, and I finally got a lovely GP and saw a good nurse in A&E. They both referred me instantly to the mental health team, and when I saw the psychiatrist he diagnosed me that meeting. Why did this not happen sooner? I was lucky to even still be alive by diagnosis time.
My experience does make me wonder how many young people are mentally ill or on the autistic spectrum and not getting the required help and diagnosis for many years. How many are self harming because of life pressures, bad home, parental divorce, school pressure and not getting any help in coping? I desperately hope that things have become better since I was that young person. I haven’t heard good things, and I know for sure it depends on where you live. We need more money in the NHS and really desperately in mental health and especially children’s mental health services, which, from what I’ve heard are appalling.
When so many people suffer with mental illness at some point in their lives, how is this not a top priority? HOW IS THIS OK? Its not. It is unacceptable. I just wish the government would see this and try to help. These are our young people, the future of this country, and they need help. Please.
Image from healthyplace.com