GIVE THEM AN EAR: SELF-HARM IN ADOLESCENTS

Suicide Blog 4 depression-824998_1920

While working in schools, I have often encountered young people, as young as 14 years, reporting self-harm. Whether it is considered serious or superficial, the fact of the matter is that it is present and staring at us in the face. According to a source, it is estimated that suicide is the 3rd largest causative factor for deaths in young people aged 10-24 accounting for 20% total deaths in a year. And that’s a whopping figure!

Most students who came to me with self-harm injuries had mutilation marks on their wrists or arms. The population was only girls. The main REASONS for self-harm cited by these girls were:

-Being excluded by the peer group

-Classmates spreading vicious rumours

-A close friend being led on by the rival group leading to the loss of the friend

Objectively it may appear as being extremely superficial, but these reasons mean a lot to young people. Children often undergo real trauma trying to navigate relationships with peers at school. These children are often troubled by groupism – a tendency of children who try to alienate one person in the show of power, sadly though, fully understanding its consequences on the victim. However, in their defence I would also say here, that while they know what effect it will generate on the victim, they are seldom aware of the subjectivity of the experience on the child as well as the severity of it. And when counselled, they often understand. And that is the silver lining.

Let me now explore other facts of self-harm in adolescent. A common factor among most girls who self-harmed, was a history of previous self-harm incidents. Research also indicates that most adolescents who show up with self-harm injuries, have a past history of self-harm. Research also indicates few other RISK FACTORS:

-Bullying

-Presence of mood disorders

-Substance use

-Inconsistency of discipline

-Negative thoughts about self-worth, self-image or self-esteem, hopelessness

-Violence in the family

-Abuse

-Suicide in the family

-Access to lethal means

-Unavailability and/or stigma related with seeking mental health services

While I was available in the school and these children were savvy enough to seek me to discuss their problems, others are unfortunately not so fortunate. They wallow in self-pity and many of them take the extreme step. So, what might be those factors that eliminate such risks? Let us now explore those PROTECTIVE FACTORS:

-Strong ties with the family, friends and community

-Good communication

-Interpersonal skills

-Problem solving skills

-Restricted access to lethal means

-Easy access to mental health professionals

The most important factor that has not been listed is the fact that we need to be more vigilant as family members or members of the community. We must always be on the lookout for SIGNS such as:

-Appearing sad or withdrawn

-Talking less

-Talking about suicide

-Change in appetite or sleep pattern

-Clinginess

-Self-harm or harming others

-Fear

-Not going to school or other places

-Any other change in routine or behaviour

So, WHAT CAN YOU DO? If you notice any of these, instead of judging the child as being an attention seeker, try to:

-Talk to the child

-Keep a regular update about what is happening at school and friends

-Show that you are always available and you love him

-Have a non-judgmental attitude towards his problems and behaviour

-indicate that mental health is as important as physical health

-Seek professional help

So today, let us vow to keep our children live healthy and beautiful life. Give them an ear!

Cheers!

Aparna

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