Her pain cuts deep

Fam­ily shares story of pre-teen girls self-harm­ing

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY MELISSA JENK­INS

Note: names have been changed and no school has been iden­ti­fied to pro­tect the iden­tity of the child and her fam­ily.

It was the shock of a life­time when Lori, the mother of a 12year-old girl from Con­cep­tion Bay North, saw self-in­flicted scrapes and scabs on her daugh­ter’s arm.

The Grade 7 stu­dent was feel­ing stressed af­ter a con­flict with a class­mate and had heard about cop­ing mech­a­nisms that in­cluded self-harm.

Kerri had started cut­ting her­self in Novem­ber, af­ter a dra­matic start to the school year. She was called names and ha­rassed by other stu­dents.

Lori and Kerri’s older sis­ter Natalie never sus­pected the girl would ever hurt her­self. She was a happy, pos­i­tive and smart girl — or so they thought. When they learned she had turned to cut­ting, they im­me­di­ately brought her to Car­bon­ear Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal to get as­sessed.

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, they learned sev­eral stu­dents in the school had con­fided in Kerri that they too were cut­ting.

Af­ter Kerri’s dis­charge, Lori and Natalie reached out to The Compass to raise aware­ness and reach out to other par­ents in the re­gion.

A shock

Lori and Natalie met with The Compass separately last week. Each had their own re­sponse to learn­ing about Kerri’s sit­u­a­tion. Kerri wasn’t pre­pared to talk openly about it yet.

It was Kerri’s sis­ter who first no­ticeed the marks on her arm. Natalie came across them by ac­ci­dent.

“We were play­ing around, and I grabbed her wrist,” she told The Compass. “When she pulled away, I could see the marks.”

Im­me­di­ately, she went to tell her mom what she had seen, and Lori couldn’t be­lieve it.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” Lori ex­plained. “I said for them to stop jok­ing. It’s not some­thing to joke about.”

When Kerri started to retreat, Lori knew some­thing was wrong.

“I said, ‘Let me see it now,’” she said. “And then I broke down cry­ing.”

Kerri was given two choices – go to the hos­pi­tal with her mom, or have an am­bu­lance take her there. She chose the for­mer op­tion. Natalie was still con­fused about why Kerri would hurt her­self.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “There were no signs.”

But Kerri found ways to hide those signs. She kept her arms hid­den from her fam­ily, hid her feel­ings about be­ing picked on and con­tin­ued on as if ev­ery­thing was fine.

“It didn’t make any sense to me. There were no signs.”

Sis­ter of a pre-teen girl cut­ting her­self

Hun­dreds of pa­tients

From Feb. 1 2014 to Jan. 31 2015, 526 pa­tients were seen at the Janeway Chil­dren’s Health and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre for de­pres­sion, sui­cide and self-harm. The Janeway is the prov­ince’s only chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal. It treats pa­tients from birth to 17 years old.

Ac­cord­ing to an email from Eastern Health spokesper­son An­gela Greenslade, the health author­ity’s pol­icy since 2012 has been for ev­ery case re­lated to de­pres­sion or self-harm to be as­sessed by a psy­chi­atric nurse. If nec­es­sary, they may also be as­sessed by a psy­chi­atric res­i­dent.

In some cases, chil­dren get ad­mit­ted to the hos­pi­tal, while oth­ers may be re­ferred to the Child Cen­tral In­take pro­gram.

A child can also be re­ferred them­selves or by a fam­ily mem­ber by call­ing 777-2200 from Mon­day to Fri­day 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Eastern Health mon­i­tors trends re­lated to rea­sons for pre­sent­ing to emer­gency de­part­ments and, on a case-by-case ba­sis, is com­mit­ted to ed­u­cat­ing pa­tients and clients about the risks as­so­ci­ated with self-harm,” Greenslade said.

Lori is wait­ing on a re­fer­ral for Kerri, so she can talk to some­one about her sit­u­a­tion.

School in­volve­ment

Kerri told her mom and sis­ter sev­eral of her friends were also in­volved in cut­ting. They re­searched how to do it on web­sites like VINE and YouTube.

“You wouldn’t be­lieve what they are find­ing on there,” Natalie said.

The Compass also spoke with par­ents and stu­dents from the Con­cep­tion Bay North re­gion, and learned this may not just be a one-school sit­u­a­tion.

One par­ent knew of five girls that ad­mit­ted to self-harm­ing them­selves in her child’s ju­nior high school class.

An­other par­ent said she and oth­ers have been hear­ing about it for months, but no one knew who was tak­ing part or if it was just a ru­mour.

The New­found­land and Labrador English School Dis­trict said school health cur­ricu­lum in- cludes dis­cus­sions on men­tal health ap­pro­pri­ate for each in­di­vid­ual age group, in­clud­ing but not limited to ex­press­ing feel­ings in ap­pro­pri­ate ways and a Have Fun Friends pro­gram to curb bul­ly­ing.

Lucy War­ren, the as­sis­tant direc­tor of pro­grams for the dis­trict’s eastern re­gion, said the In­ter­net and smart phones al­low youth to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion of all sorts.

“The new dig­i­tal age con­trib­utes to that,” she told The Compass. “Stu­dents can share in­for­ma­tion with each other. They can use the in­ter­net to learn more.”

Warn­ing by fam­ily

Lori and Natalie had a long talk with Kerri about cut­ting, and now that she is no longer do­ing it, they feel par­ents need to be ed­u­cated on the sub­ject.

“At first I thought I may have been re­spon­si­ble, and I asked, ‘Did I do some­thing wrong?’” Lori said.

She now knows that isn’t true, but still fears for her daugh­ter.

“I’m con­stantly check­ing her (arms),” she said.

But the in­juries are not just limited to arms, but also legs, an­kles be­low the socks, hips at the un­der­wear line and the ribs. Some chil­dren cut un­til they leave a mark, oth­ers cut un­til they bleed.

“If I could tell par­ents one thing, it would be to check your kids,” Lori con­tin­ued. “Even if you think your child couldn’t do it, you should check. I didn’t think mine could, and she did.”

Natalie wants par­ents and teach­ers to be aware of the tools that some kids are us­ing, es­pe­cially since many may be­lieve they are harm­less.

Kerri used the blade from a sharp­ener. Other items peo­ple may want to keep an eye out for are nails and screws, fin­ger­nail clip­pers, safety pins and push pins, keys and any­thing metal or plas­tic that could have a sharp edge.

An ar­ti­cle with in­for­ma­tion from a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who has ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with self­harm and de­pres­sion will ap­pear in the March 16 print edi­tion of The Compass.

Cut­ting has been a topic of dis­cus­sion among some par­ents in the Con­cep­tion Bay North re­gion in re­cent months. Con­cerns have been raised that any child could be tak­ing part in the ac­tiv­ity with­out a par­ent’s knowl­edge.

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