Sensitive approach needed as age of self-harmers falls
There has been a rise in cases of self-harming in Buckinghamshire, with children as young as five being treated for injuries in A&E units, according to statistics released in response to a Freedom of Information request. speaks to an expert from ChildLin
CHARLIE Cuthbert was 11 years old when she started to self-harm. “It first started when my parents split up. Now I can look back and know it’s not my fault, but [at the time] you don’t feel that way.”
Charlie has had time to reflect as she is now an intern with Selfharm.co. uk, a charity that helps people who self-harm.
“No one found out I was cutting myself until I was 15. I didn’t know who I could talk to.
“The school found out and I was referred me to CAMs [specialists]. They said it wasn’t serious enough and I was sent to my GP – there wasn’t such an understanding then.
“At first it was really a way of coping.
“I didn’t know who to talk to or what to say. It helped when I could talk to someone who wasn’t involved and who had experience. That really helped and I didn’t feel judged.”
Charlie was eventually put in touch with the Luton Churches Education Trust, where she got involved with a group who go into schools to help children understand their emotions, teach them about self-worth, and how to deal with feelings rather than self-harming.
“It’s to see there is an alternative to self-harming and other ways to cope,” said Charlie, who is now 21.
“Now I see there are lots of reasons why it happens; disadvantaged children, bullying, the death of a loved one, pressure and not knowing how to cope.
“Now I’d say to talk to someone, someone who you feel comfortable talking to. That can be difficult.”
Figures released via a Freedom of Information request revealed a rise in the number of children self-harming.
More alarmingly, children as young as five (2009/10) have been treated for self-inflicted injuries in Buckinghamshire.
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust’s accident and emergency units have treated 51 children who intentionally self-harmed during the past five years.
The figures gathered related to people less than 18 years old attending A&E who had committed deliberate self-harm.
There has also been an increase in the number of young people attending Bucks’ A&E units for deliberate self-harm between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
There were just eight cases in 2012/13, but 21 in 2013/14 – an increase of 162.5 per cent.
Nationally there has been a 47 per cent rise in cases of self-harming.
ChildLine has not had calls from anyone as young as five, but 70 per cent of contacts about self-harm were between 12 and 15 years old.
Mark Bajer, senior supervisor at ChildLine, said: “Self-harming was listed in the top five concerns for young people in the past few years.
“Between 2011 and 2012 the main age was 14, and then it was 13-year-olds for the first time in 2012/13.”
ChildLine also recorded a 50 per cent increase in contacts (the term is uses for calls or online queries).
“We have been getting a lot of calls in the past five years. It’s increasing year by year.”
Mr Bajer said he feels there has been a particularly marked increase in the past year.
He said it was hard to pinpoint a reason, other than young people struggling with the ‘increasing pressure’ put on them.
“I wouldn’t wish to speculate why it has gone up but they are telling us they are finding it a mechanism to cope with a range of things,” he said.
“They don’t want to disappoint, or feel pressure; they use it to get away from their bad thoughts.
“If they have been doing it a while, it’s like an addiction. They even change their biochemistry by doing it. Endorphines are realised, like a painkiller, but it’s just temporary.”
YoungMinds, another charity that helps young people who self-harm, said earlier this year that it has also seen an increase in online enquiries.
The same has been the case for ChildLine since it launched its online service.
Mr Bajer added: “They are more comfortable to say it online than on the telephone.”
Of course online access can also have a negative outcome.
Self-harming often makes the news, thanks to celebrities sharing their tales or tweeting.
Demi Lovato, the American singer, has owned up to self-harming, and actress Angelina Jolie has also talked about her experiences.
But while there is no denying this is a growing problem for children and young people, there seems to be a slower response as to how do deal with it.
There are often long waiting lists for help through the NHS and children can be reluctant to talk.
Mr Bajer said: “It’s hard for children to talk to parents – some may notice and then find it hard to approach their child. It’s better to ask for help then.
“But we are told it’s often for no other reason than they don’t want to worry them or deal with a distressed parent.
“They feel they are worried about other things or maybe they don’t have a good relationship or feel they won’t understand.
“All I’d say is, think carefully before approaching children; perhaps suggest a charity or childline or even the GP.”
Charlie, who lives in Milton Keynes, agrees: “Not everyone is ready to talk but they need to know people are there.”
She is currently studying for a masters degree in counselling, driven by the hope she can help others who are in the same situation she was once in.
“I want to use my experience,” she said.
Visit www.getbucks. co.uk for guidance on what to do if you suspect someone is self-harming.
MOVING ON: Charlie Cuthbert hopes she can use her own experiences to help others once she is qualified as a counsellor