Talking Taboos: Self Harm

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:

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The panel

 

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Lucie Russell, YoungMinds

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.

APPG on Children’s Health at the House of Lords

On the 22nd of October i had a very exclusive ticket to the House of Lords to speak and give evidence at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Children. This was apparently the second meeting of the group although the first for me and the question asked of us was “are children and young people getting the opportunities they want” in terms of good health and was looking at access to healthcare.

We heard from:

Baroness Massey who was kind enough to chair the event.

Dr. Chris Hanvey, the chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Caroline Noakes, MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image who told us about her work and area of interests which include self esteem, body image and mental health. It was great to hear from an MP so involved in raising awareness of these issues which affect so many young people.

Professor Helen Cross, the Prince of Wales chair of Childhood Epilepsy and three young people from the charity Young Epilepsy. I was so impressed by the young people who spoke about their experiences of other peoples ignorance and the discrimination and lack of understanding they had faced in receiving help for their conditions.

Young people and staff from West London Mental Health Trust’s Wells Unit who spoke openly and honestly about their experiences of both the justice and mental health systems and what they think would help young people stay mentally healthy, especially vulnerable young people who had become caught up in gangs.

We also heard from a representative at ChildLine who talked us through some really eye opening statistics. I was amazed to hear that since it was founded in 1986 ChildLine has counselled over 2.9 million children.

They spoke about the 69% increase in calls about self harm and 39% increase about suicide and told us that depression and mental health concerns feature in the top 5 concerns for 16 and 17 year olds calling them.

I was the last young person to speak at the APPG, this felt like a really big responsibility, especially after hearing from the other young people at the event but i wanted to make sure that i got across how young people who use mental health services often feel.

I also pointed out that, as i was the last person to speak, it showed that there continue to be wide ranging and very damaging problems within children and young people’s healthcare regardless of whether this is mental or physical health. I pointed out that this was an issue rampant across services and young people frequently felt dismissed, ignored and patronised by services and professionals.

I also spoke about the work i had done in the past and my experiences of services which is what led me to get involved in YoungMinds in the first place. I spoke about the work i do now with YoungMinds and NHS London and the app that we are developing specifically for young people in London and the State of Mind manifesto.

The group wrapped up the meeting with a quick Q&A session, we would have loved to have speak longer but we had to finish at 6:30. I must admit to being exhausted by the end of the day but it was definitely an incredibly worthwhile experience and i am glad that i was able to speak at such a high level about mental health and young people. I just hope that what i said can in some way help to make a difference, if only in opening people’s eyes to some of the experiences of young people.

HIV Sport at the House of Lords

On Monday 8th of October i had my first of three visits this month to the House of Lords. I must admit that this visit was not related to mental health but a highly interesting and enjoyable experience nonetheless.  In fact in many ways more so because i learnt so much about something i admit to not knowing much about.

I was visiting with Devika, winner of the Sex Factor 2012 competition and MBARC, who i am working with for the sexual health section of our wellbeing app. They were kind enough to invite me for the launch of HIV Sport’s launch of their film series “Fact or Fiction”.

Badges of Hope

HIV Sport is a fantastic charity that, as the name suggests, uses sport to raise awareness of HIV. It works on an international level and has touched the lives of so many people across the world.

We heard from some truly incredible people and saw the award for the winner of the Fact or Fiction competition given to Brian Mjiyakho and Danny Lurie from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Brian Mjiyakho

You can watch some of the films here.

After this we were given a guided tour of the House of Lords and even got to watch the Lords sitting from the member’s gallery!

Afterwards we convened for a meeting and Devika and I were able to share the work that we are doing developing our wellbeing app for young people in London. We talked about our aims for the project and what had brought us together for this project. It was wonderful to not only be able to share ideas with delegates from across the world but also hear so much praise and interest in our work.

Overall the day was a fascinating and truly humbling experience, seeing people from across the world come together to do such incredible work.

October has been a busy month

Well October is almost drawing to an end now and it has been quite a month! On top of my usual work for YoungMinds and NHS London i have also been lucky enough to visit the House of Lords on not one, nor two but three occasions this month to talk about mental health and the app i am developing.

I will be blogging about all three of these visits in the coming days, watch this space!