Shocking new figures released by the NHS last month reveal that the number of 10 to 14-year-olds treated for self harm in the UK has risen by 70% in the last couple of years. For those aged 15 to 23, the increase is 23%.
Someone may look at these statistics and think that children are too young to be depressed and hurting themselves; that we’re supposed to be innocent, carefree and happy.
But it’s becoming harder to be a young person in today’s society – and the rise in self-harming may have links to the increasing pressures on teenagers such as educational performance, unrealistic body image and bullying on social media.
I’ve self-harmed several times in the past. One incident was caused by strains and stresses from schoolwork, while another was due to mental health problems (a voice in my head).
Recently, I’ve self-harmed again after having an argument with my family. I know hurting myself isn’t the best way of coping but often I feel it’s the only way. It offers a quick fix to my mental pain by causing myself physical pain.
I usually have a cheerful, bubbly personality but, on rare occasions, if something negative pushes my anger too far, I can be overcome by the urge to harm myself. I may slap or punch myself, claw myself until I bleed or crash intentionally into walls. But usually I cut myself with a knife, because to me it’s the quickest way of relieving anger.
I’ve scraped myself with a knife several times. The most recent incident was over my lost bus card. I was so overcome with frustration and panic that I rushed into the kitchen and ran a knife-edge over my arm until I could see blood. Even though it hurt (I continually moaned “it hurts, it hurts” in both pleasure and agony) I continued to cut myself, just to erase the mental anguish.
When I showed my mother the slash, I lied that my cat scratched me. I simply couldn’t bear to tell her that I’d knifed myself again.
Another notable self-harming occasion was after I had stopped myself pursuing my obsession with Canada. I scraped my arm with a knife so many times that the flesh turned raw and started to bleed, rather like a burn. The scar remained for some time afterwards, and I think I can still see it – the skin is slightly darker.
People can hurt themselves in different ways. They may slash, hit or burn themselves, overdose on drugs, starve themselves (anorexia) or overeat (bulimia). By hurting themselves, they may be crying out for help or punishing themselves for something bad they feel they’ve done.
It’s difficult to get the whole picture on how many young people in the UK self-harm, since many are too ashamed to tell anybody about their problems, but it’s thought that 10% of young people will hurt themselves at some point in their lives. Parents often only find out when they see unexplained injuries on their child’s skin.
Girls seem to be more likely to hurt themselves than boys, because they are more willing to show their emotions. But boys do it too. Anyone can self-harm.
According to the support website selfharm.co.uk the issue appears to be even more prevalent in those with autism; about 20 to 30% will hurt themselves.
I think this is because those on the autism spectrum (like me) have poor social skills. We don’t talk to other people as much, and so we try to hurt ourselves as a release. Autistic people also tend not to feel severe physical pain as much as ‘normal’ people, so we may hurt ourselves and not even sense it that much at the time.
People who hurt themselves often do it to block out the pain but it’s only temporary – we certainly feel the injury afterwards. For some, it seems the only way of ‘coping’ but this can quickly become an addiction leading to serious injury and possibly even death.
I find the whole idea of self-harm paradoxical – you cause yourself pain in order to… relieve pain!
If I have a temptation to hurt myself in the future, I won’t reach for the knife – instead, I’ll reach for the pen. I may write a short story or draw a picture, showing one of my cartoon characters trying to hurt themselves instead.
In doing so, I will release my unhappiness in a creative rather than a destructive way, a way that doesn’t cause me physical harm.