Learn how to STOP self harm
I’ve talked before about the escalation of mental health problems in our children and young people. We ignore these issues at our peril.
That is why I am now busy delivering training to target the recent explosion of self harm in our schools.
The ‘STOP Self Harm’ programme delivers psycho education and emotional management strategies directly to teachers and young people. Knowledge truly is power. Fewer children would experiment with self harming if they knew how addictive it can become and, as Einstein observed, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
When you look at what’s happening, a worrying pattern begins to emerge.
Children turned away by mental health services
Just last week, a report from the NSPCC highlighted the fact that more than a fifth of children referred to mental health services in England have been refused treatment as they ‘do not meet the right criteria’. The charity talked about a ‘time bomb’ of serious mental health conditions, saying ‘there is a vacuum that needs to be filled and it needs to be both a national and local priority.’
Figures from 35 mental health trusts across England show a total of 186,453 cases were referred by GPs and other professionals for help, but 39,652 children did not receive it. The NSPCC said its Child Line service received nearly 100 calls a week last year from children whose mental health and wellbeing were suffering as a consequence.
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘We do need, as a country, to better understand the underlying causes of why it is that children and adolescents' mental health problems seem to be on the rise….’
A report in The Times just two weeks ago talked about increasing mental health problems in private schools too. Head teachers are concerned.
They know they need help, but are confused by the 600 models of talking therapy currently being practised by counsellors and psychotherapists. Let’s face it, many GPs and mental health practitioners simply don’t know what to do when faced with self harming youngsters, and do not have the skills to offer effective help.
Fusion therapeutic coaches do.
Schools are really struggling to cope with the rising numbers of pupils who self-harm, according to two major teaching unions. It’s truly becoming an epidemic.
The figures for students who cut, burn or hurt themselves in another way, have been rising sharply in recent years. NHS figures show there were 28,730 admissions in England for self-harm among 10 to 19 year olds in the year to March 2014 compared with 22,978 the year before. However this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as many more youngsters who harm themselves do not end up in hospital.
What are the signs?
Self harm presents in a variety of ways:
Crashing a car
Banging or scratching one’s own body
Ingesting toxic substances or objects
Throwing self down stairs
And many more.....
If you suspect a child may be at risk of self harming, be on the look-out for uncharacteristically withdrawn, irritable or secretive behaviour. Be on the alert too, if a child dresses in long sleeves and long trousers all the time, even in warm weather, and can't be persuaded to wear anything more revealing.
The NHS website defines self harm as ‘when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.’
A way to live or a way to die?
Some people think of self-harm on a spectrum, with suicide at one end and normal coping mechanisms at the other. In between there might be varying degrees of serious and minor self harm. However, someone who attempts suicide is often motivated by the desire to end the pain of living; whereas someone who self harms is often trying to make them self feel better; to find a way of continuing to live.
And many of us simply do not know how to respond to the issue when confronted with it.
Consider this scenario
Jane says ‘I’ve got something to show you’ and rolls up her sleeve.
You see many scars. There is a bandage, a recent wound. How do you react? What are your immediate thoughts and feelings? There are a range of unhelpful reactions:
- All this self harm nonsense makes me so angry
- Attention seeking
- A drain on already stretched resources
- This is a waste of my time
- I can't deal with this
NICE guidelines describe self harm as 'a symptom of an underlying problem'.
It is essential to try and discover what that problem is. It is also essential not to try and stop the behaviour before replacing it with another, more helpful, coping mechanism.
There are many reasons why youngsters self harm and the reasons they give are often different from what the professionals say. In a survey conducted by the Samaritans, the most common reason given was 'to find relief from a terrible situation’. The least common reason was 'to get my own back.'
Looking at the problem through the SAFE SPACE lens can be a very helpful starting point, to identify which aspects of a child’s life are causing them distress. Listening empathically and without judgement is crucial, but is not enough on its own.
Young people will, at some point, need a strategy like the mindfulness based STOP System to help them reduce self harming and replace the behaviour with ‘emotional intelligence’ to help manage uncomfortable feelings.
Frances A Masters MBACP accred GHGI FRTC