I was recently asked to speak about “cutting” to students, parents and staff at a local High School who were concerned about their year eight students. I was so pleased to see a school being so proactive, but I also realised how delicate a subject it was. I didn’t want to glorify or promote the behaviour, neither did I want to condemn those who were suffering. It was my job to engage them in a discussion about how they were going to handle it positively as a school body, and convince the students that there were more effective ways to managing their emotions. Here is some of the content we addressed…
How many young people self-harm?
– 12% of young people have self-harmed.
What is self-harm?
– Cutting part of the body, commonly the arms, wrists, or thighs
– Taking overdoses of prescribed or illegal drugs or other substances that cause harm
– Using cigarettes or lighters to burn the skin
– Other ‘risk taking’ behaviour can lead to harm, such as train surfing, driving cars at high speed, illegal drug use, or deliberately unsafe sex.
Why do people self-harm?
Self-harm aims to temporarily relieve, control or express distressing thoughts, feelings or memories. It can also be a way for young people to:
– tell others about their pain and distress
It is made worse by depression (mental health), family instability or abuse or trauma.
Not everyone who self-harms is suicidal but people do die due to severe self-harming behaviour.
How should a teen respond to a friend who is self-harming?
– Don’t be their mother or counsellor. Be a friend.
– Be a good friend and listen when they are stressed
– If you are worried about them talk to an adult
– Encourage your friend to get professional support. You may want to go with them to a school counsellor to help them take that step.
– Do normal stuff together (even simple things like going to the movies)
– Don’t increase the drama
– Don’t talk about it all the time
What are the signs of self-harm?
– Knowledge of others who are self-harming
– Unexplained marks on body
– Wearing long sleeves that are never removed
– Wearing wide wrist bands that are never removed
– Difficulty expressing emotions
– Secretive behaviour and/or extended time alone
– Items missing that could be used for cutting (sharpener blades, knives, scissors, safety pins, razors)
– Signs of depression – withdrawn, sad, negative, lack of resilience
How does self-harm impact the brain?
– The brain wires quickly for this self-harming behaviour, creating a stress + cutting = relief circuit.
This circuit becomes harder and harder to break over time.
Why don’t teens use more positive strategies?
– Lack of knowledge
– Lack of creativity
– Lack of time
– Lack of motivation
What is the opposite of self-harm?
The opposite of self-harm is self-care. “icope” is a great app which helps young people develop self-care strategies. Self-care falls into these categories:
– Social – talk to a friend, be with people, help someone else, go to a public place
– Physical – exercise, go to the gym, rip up paper, go swimming
– Constructive – do homework, clean room,
– Comfort – cuddle a soft toy, take a shower, wear your pjs, drink hot chocolate
– Fun – watch a DVD, surf the internet, see a movie, listen to music, read, play with a pet
– Creative – write a letter, do some art, play music, make a compilation
What is harm minimisation?
If young people can’t distract themselves they can reduce the risk of infection by using clean blades and dressings. They can also purposefully reduce the severity of cuts or burns and only do what is essential for emotional relief.
Where do we go for help?
Some young people will experiment with self-harm once and never return to it. Other young people quickly gravitate and form a habit of self-harm. If your young person has self-harmed more than once I would recommend seeking professional support. Early intervention will ensure the best outcome.
icope app $3.75
Head Space – facts sheet
THANK YOU to everyone who has been passing these blog posts on, and for all your kind emails about their impact on your family. If you have a topic you would like me to blog about email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond to it as soon as I can.
If you would like to book me to speak at your school or community event email email@example.com
MOST IMPORTANTLY if your teenager needs support from a psychologist, counsellor or mentor Youth Excel would love to help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell their Parents is available at www.michellemitchell.org for $24.95 plus postage.
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