Mental Health Today editor Dan Parton says tackling stigma is just the start of a solution to the issues surrounding child self-harm:
A new campaign that aims to challenge the misconceptions around self-harm was launched last week. But tackling stigma is only part of what’s needed to ensure that young people who self-harm get the care they need.
The campaign, run by ChildLine, YouthNet, Selfharm.co.uk and YoungMinds, was launched to coincide with Self-Harm Awareness Day on March 1. The charities hope it will get people talking and reduce the stigma attached to self-harming, which prevents many young people from seeking help.
It is much-needed. It has been estimated that 1 in 12 young people in the UK have self-harmed at some point in their lives, and numbers seem to be on the rise: last December, ChildLine reported a 68% increase in cases of young people who have self-harmed and contacted the charity in the past year.
Perhaps more worryingly, the average age of young people self-harming seems to be coming down. Self-harm was one of the top 5 concerns for 13-year-olds for the first time in recent figures, again from ChildLine.
Perceptions that self-harm is just about, for example, seeking attention or, worse, that it is just the latest fashion, are still relatively common. Neither is true. But raising awareness of self-harm and getting people talking about it will help to tackle these misconceptions and reduce the stigma that surrounds the problem.
Some people may be cynical about the effectiveness of awareness campaigns – admittedly assessing how much good they have done can be tricky – but anything that gets what is often still a taboo subject into people’s conversations has to be a good thing.
However, while the campaign may help to reduce the stigma associated with self-harm and encourage young people to seek help, those they go to must feel equipped to give that help.
The reasons why young people self-harm are often complex and those who come into contact with them – be they parents, teachers, health or social care professionals – need to understand this. All too often, young people who self-harm have a bad experience when they do go to someone about it – such as feeling judged or being seen as a time-waster – and this can discourage them from seeking help again.
While the awareness campaign will help to tackle these attitudes, professionals also need more training in self-harm, with a focus on its causes and treatment, including, particularly, harm-minimisation techniques.
More training on self-harm during qualifying courses should be standard, and specific resources in the form of online information portals, more CPD-accredited training courses for healthcare professionals (traditional or online) and targeted information, should be more widely available.
Such developments, along with awareness campaigns, would give people who self-harm the greatest chance of getting the right help at the right time.