There is a phenomena that lurks, mostly hidden away, and that affects more young people than i think anyone really dared, or wanted, to imagine. The number has been growing for years. In fact it affects one in twelve young people and yet is one of the most misunderstood and mistreated issues they face today.
The issue i’m talking about here if you hadn’t guessed is Self Harm.
At YoungMinds and the VIK project we have known for a very long time that self harm is a huge problem for many young people. We campaign to raise awareness about self harm and reduce some of the stigma that surrounds it and do this by giving training to professionals, speaking and writing publicly about our experiences and feeding into research. So when YoungMinds were given the chance to do a major piece of research on self harm they jumped and together with CELLO they produced a year long piece of research entitled: “Talking Taboos”.
I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Talking Taboos at Portcullis House on the 23rd of October. The launch was a fantastic success with a wonderful audience that were full of questions for our panel of experts:
The report, aimed at exploring society’s perceptions of self harm as well as young people’s experiences also goes on to give key recommendations to try and bring self harm out of the shadows and break down the barriers so many face in seeking help. In a world where there is so much fear around self injury it is great to see such clear, straightforward steps we can begin to take to improve this area.
The report showed a widespread lack of understanding and training around self harm for near enough all frontline staff in young people’s lives; from parents, to teachers to GP’s. However it also showed that so much of the time it is not a wilful ignorance.
97% of young people say that they believe self harm should be addressed in schools and 80% of teachers want clear, practical advice and materials that they can share with pupils.
Those are overwhelming numbers that cannot be ignored. There is a strong desire for knowledge and to open up a dialogue with young people and i would love to see more schools actively engaging with young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing at the very least.
We need to help GPs to understand too. Four out of five do not feel that they have the right language to speak to young people about self harm. That worries me.
We need a new era of openness and tolerance and not only that but empathy for our fellow men, women and children who are suffering silently because of ignorance and stigma.
Self harm is a widespread problem and just like mental illness it does not discriminate between genders, or races or even age ranges. We have all at some point or another i imagine done something that could be seen as self destructive and everyone has less than perfect coping mechanisms. It might take the form of smoking, or drinking too much, or self harming. Either way we need to stop obsessing about the fact it is happening and start asking “why?”.
The report can be read in full here: Talking Taboos
And for more information and advice on self harm i would strongly recommend checking out LifeSIGNS which is run by people with direct experience of self injury.