Saturday’s Times featured the headline “Schools buckle under 70,000 self-harm cases“. The article went on to detail how, owing to inconsistencies in the way self-harm is recorded and dealt with across different schools, this figure probably only gave a small indication of the true scale of the problem. Surveying 28 schools that had been able to provide six years’ worth of data, the Times found that teachers blamed social media as one of the largest contributors to self-harming behaviours. Natasha Devon writes in Tes .
Anecdotally, I’d say that self-harm is one of the fastest growing mental health issues in young people. However, I do not think if the Times’ survey had asked pupils themselves, rather than their teachers, that the top answer for why they were self-harming would have been the internet.
Perhaps then, it is more accurate to say that, whilst social media might technically be responsible for growing numbers of children self-harming, it is not the reason why. Perhaps if self-harm didn’t exist, those young people would find another way of communicating their anxiety. This certainly tallies up with the fact that when I first started going into schools 10 years ago, the biggest call was for me to talk about eating disorders, but now self-harm is often described as the current “trend” by teachers. The method of expression might be different, but that cannot tell us necessarily what the underlying reasons are.
Self-harming behaviours are highly addictive. Addiction expert Shahroo Izadi’s hotly anticipated book The Kindness Method is out this week and in it she argues that to address negative habits, we should stop focussing on our behaviours and instead consider why we do them. If we work on making ourselves happier and more balanced, Shahroo says, the toxic coping mechanisms will naturally melt away.
In that spirit, below and in no particular order are 13 reasons why I believe young people are feeling greater levels of anxiety and emotional distress that might, in turn, lead them to self-harm. If the government and society more generally are able to combat these, we have a real chance of reducing mental ill health amongst young people:
1. Academic pressure as a result of a significantly narrowed but more demanding curriculum.
2. Exam stress and an increased culture of testing.
3. Worries about future prospects, employability and/or student debt.
4. Worries about world issues and current affairs – e.g., trigger-happy world leaders, global warming.
Read more about self harming and possible triggers for doing it ‘Thirteen REAL reasons why pupils self-harm’
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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