Chloe was just 12 years old when she first experienced self-harming. She says she was an easy target for bullies as she was very quiet and reserved. She had a brother who was unwell and so didn’t want to worry her parents further. Her first experience involved digging her nails into her arm during class to stop herself from crying. Surprised at how much this physical pain distracted her from the emotional pain, Chloe began doing this regularly.
Before long Chloe was using blades to cut herself and never left her home without something sharp. After her friend discovered her diary, Chloe’s mother, Jo, found out about her self-harming. Jo says it was a big shock,
“Chloe, who is now 17, has always been a very sensible, studious young lady. I didn’t even know she was unhappy. Making matters worse was the fact that I got such bad advice. I was told not to discuss anything with Chloe, just to march her into treatment. It didn’t work.”
Sadly, Chloe’s story is not an isolated case. Last week official statistics revealed a worrying rise in children who self-harm. Figures showed that in the last year NHS hospitals have treated over 18,000 girls and 4,600 boys between the ages of 10 and 19 after deliberately self-harming. This is a rise of 11%.
Chief executive of YoungMinds, Sarah Brennan says that an equally alarming finding was the lack of confidence among both parents and professionals when it came to dealing with the issue. So why is this phenomenon on the rise?
Rachel Welch, project manager at selfharm.co.uk doesn’t believe it is on the rise – we are simply more aware of it. In the past the act of self-harming was rarely discussed and the label wasn’t truly there. Today young people have access to many charities and support groups who specialise in self-harming and the issue has become far more prominent in the media.
The question on everyone’s lips however is – what’s causing our children to self-harm? Some headlines have blamed a society obsessed with body image, while others think the 24/7 online culture is a contributing factor. The fact our families are becoming more fragmented could be yet another element to consider.
Treatments for self-harming need to be reassessed according to experts. Currently GPs tend to measure the emotional distress of a self-harmer by the severity of their scars, but in truth – a 12-year old cutting herself down to the bone is not necessarily more distressed than a 12-year old scratching her wrist.
Even if young self-harmers are referred for further treatment, they often have to endure an 18-week wait. Chloe says she was given no choice when it came to treatment, and was refused counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. In the end she found relief through supportive friends and a local therapy group. Today Chloe uses other coping mechanisms such as writing, talking and even squeezing ice cubes to help her overcome the urge to self-harm. It is obvious however that given the treatment options earlier, Chloe could have started her recovery before the situation escalated.