Please be aware as a parent or carer the content of this may be upsetting or could bring up personal issues for yourself. Support is available for you via your GP or you can contact the Samaritans at any time by Freephone on 116 123.
Self-harm can be a hard subject to talk about but it’s important to understand a little more about what it is, what to look for, where you can find out more and get help and support.
Self-harm is something very individual but generally it is the act of deliberately causing harm to oneself either by causing a physical injury, by putting oneself in dangerous situations and/or self-neglect. This can include things like cutting, burning, pulling hair out, eating disorders and picking and scratching.
Reasons why people self-harm are also as individual and varied as the act itself and can include bullying, stress and low self-esteem. It is usually done as a way of coping and physically expressing feelings when a person struggles to communicate with others. Often the act of self-harm is very private and where this is done as a physical injury to oneself, people who do it will go to great lengths to hide it.
Some of the things to look out for include:
- Unexplained burns, cuts, scars, or other clusters of markings
- Arms, hands and forearms opposite the dominant hand are common areas for injury
- Inappropriate dress for the season, eg. consistently wearing long sleeves on hot summer days
- Constant use of wrist bands or similar coverings
- Unwillingness to take part in PE, sports, swimming
- Unusual or inexplicable paraphernalia (blades, other implements, inappropriate medication)
- Heightened signs of anxiety and/or depression
If you do discover your child is self-harming it is common to feel anxious or worried, angry or blame yourself but there are a number of things you can do or avoid doing to help them.
Firstly, try to stay calm and open up the opportunity for them to talk about it if they want to. Making them talk about it or telling them you will take them to get help is not helpful. This is because it takes away their control about the situation which may make them withdraw from you.
Don’t tell them they just need to stop it or make them promise never to do it again. Offer ideas of distractions that they could do or you can do together like watching a film or going for a walk if they would like. There are more ideas for distractions and things to do to support your child on the National Self Harm Networks website.
Importantly, don’t take it personally or try to deal with more than you can without help. Dealing with this can be draining on a daily basis and it’s important to keep an eye on your own wellbeing too.
Finally, try to find out as much about self-harm as you can. The resources listed below include lots of information and guides to help you as well as details of where to go for more help. Although officially between 8 and 10% of teenagers will self-harm at some point, the reality may be much higher as it can be very private. By encouraging your child to not view it as something to be kept secret it will help improve understanding and help with getting support.
- Selfharm UK – A creative site for young people to communicate with others using blogs, stories, poetry and art. www.selfharm.co.uk.
- Head Above The Waves – Online advice, support and coping strategies for young people aged 11 – 25 years demonstrating harm to themselves.hatw.co.uk.
- Calm Harm App – FREE downloadable App for ages 13 and above with activities designed to help with the urge to selfharm. Activities are broken down into different groups: Comfort, Distract, Express Yourself, Release, Random and Breathe. The App can be used by younger children but they recommend this is done with guidance from a responsible adult. calmharm.co.uk.
- The Mix – Support available for young people under 25 years old with telephone support available 4pm to 11pm, a 1-2-1 chat live messenger and a crisis messenger service available 24/7. The Freephone number is 0808 808 4994. www.themix.org.uk/mental-health/self-harm
- Young Minds – Website with lots of online resources available as well as a crisis messenger service available 24/7. Text YM to 85258 if urgent help is required. These are FREE from the following mobile phone providers EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus. There is also a FREE Parent Helpline available Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4pm. The Freephone number is 0808 802 5544. youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/self-harm/
- Mindout – Online confidential and anonymous message service supporting LGBTQ young people. Availability of the online support each day is shown on their website.www.mindout.org.uk/get-support/mindout-online/
- Childline – Online and telephone support available for young people under the age of 19 years 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Freephone number is 0800 1111.www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/your-feelings/self-harm/
- National Self Harm Network (NSHN) – Wesbite with lots of information to support and help those who may self-harm. Includes FREE downloads, more helpful links and an online forum.www.nshn.co.uk/whatis.html
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) – Website with online chat and telephone support 365 days a year from 5pm to midnight. The telephone support is through Freephone number 0800 58 58 58. Aimed primarily at males aged 15 and above, they exist to help prevent male suicide. www.thecalmzone.net/
- Papyrus Hopeline – Helpline aimed at young people under the age of 35 years or anyone concerned about a young person experiencing thoughts of suicide. Available 9am to 10pm weekdays, 2pm to 10pm weekends and 2pm to 10pm bank holidays, the Freephone number is 0800 68 41 41. You can also text 07786 209 697 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk.
- The Mental Health Foundation have some great, FREE to download, booklets available covering topics like The truth about self-harm and Overcoming fear and anxietywww.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications
- Time to Change have lots of tips about how you can support friends, family or colleagues who have a mental health concern as well as get support yourself. You can find out more here www.time-to-change.org.uk/
- Mind also have lots of advice available on their website to help you understand more about a particular mental health concern such as bipolar, depression or phobias and more. You can download their wide range of booklets FREE to download here shop.mind.org.uk/shop/booklets
- Turning Point can provide support for people aged 16+ with a mental health concern. You can find out more about Turning Point's talking therapies available in Wakefield, Castleford and online here talking.turning-point.co.uk/wakefield/
- Richmond Fellowship are also available to support young people and adults from age 16 upwards. You can find out more about what they can offer here www.richmondfellowship.org.uk/yorkshire/wakefield-mental-health-support-service/
- Kooth, providing FREE and confidential support and advice to young people. The site offers online access to counselling as well as forums where they can chat with other young people about any problems or issues they are dealing with. You can access the site here kooth.com/
- YoungMinds website has advice for parents and carers in their Parent Survival Guide or helpline to help with supporting your son or daughter. Young people can also access their services and online resources here youngminds.org.uk/
- The Samaritans has advice on how to start a difficult conversation with someone you may be worried about which you can find out more about by clicking here Having a Difficult Conversation
The biggest concern people have about mental health is the stigma they may face if they are open about their mental health.
As 1 in 4 people have a mental health concern, we all know someone who has one. By having more open conversations we can help reduce the stigma and help people access the support they may need.