Why are so many girls self-harm­ing?

As fig­ures re­veal the number of teenage girls hurt­ing or in­jur­ing them­selves has in­creased by 68 per cent over three years, Closer asks what can be done to help…

Closer (UK) - - News - By Poppy Danby ● Young Minds pro­vides free 24/7 cri­sis sup­port across the UK. If you need ur­gent help text YM to 85258. All texts are an­swered by trained vol­un­teers, with sup­port from ex­pe­ri­enced clin­i­cal su­per­vi­sors

❛I’D PINCH, HIT OR SCRATCH MY­SELF WHEN­EVER I FELT LOW❜

Look­ing at the L scars on her arms, Lara Fer­gu­son is left with a per­ma­nent re­minder of her dif­fi­cult early teenage years. The 19 year old has strug­gled with her men­tal health since she was 13 – self-harm­ing and even at­tempt­ing to take her own life. Now, she is de­ter­mined to raise aware­ness of the heart­break­ing is­sue to try to stop more young peo­ple from go­ing through the same trauma.

CRY FOR HELP

Lara – who lives in Sh­effield with her dad, James, her mum, Ali­son, and younger brother Euan, 14 – says, “There are so many mis­con­cep­tions about self-harm. Peo­ple think it’s at­ten­tion-seek­ing, but it’s ac­tu­ally a cry for help. The ef­fect it’s had on my life has been mon­u­men­tal and I can’t help but won­der how dif­fer­ent things would be if I’d re­ceived the right sup­port. We need to start tak­ing teen men­tal health more se­ri­ously.”

Ear­lier this year, it was re­vealed that the number of girls aged 13 to 16 re­port­ing self-harm to GPS had in­creased by 68 per cent over just three years, and hospi­tal ad­mis­sions have nearly dou­bled in 20 years. And while girls are more likely to be af­fected, rates for boys are in­creas­ing sub­stan­tially. Ex­perts sus­pect this is be­cause of the over­all pres­sures of mod­ern life – last week, health sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock said children un­der 13 should be banned from so­cial me­dia. He added, “I def­i­nitely think so­cial me­dia has got a part to play. There’s an in­crease in self-harm among teenage girls, but not among teenage boys. And that im­plies that some­thing hap­pened in the last decade to in­crease the pres­sure on teenage girls. Young peo­ple even feel the pres­sure when they’re in What­sapp groups to re­spond im­me­di­ately, even if it’s in the mid­dle of the night. ”

Jo Hardy, head of par­ent ser­vices at men­tal health char­ity Young Minds, says, “We know that young peo­ple face a huge range of pres­sures as they grow up, in­clud­ing school stress, bul­ly­ing, wor­ries about body im­age, as well as the need to be con­stantly avail­able which comes with the on­line world. The rea­sons be­hind self-harm are com­plex and mul­ti­ple, but these pres­sures, along with dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences in child­hood – like grow­ing up in poverty or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ne­glect or abuse – have a huge im­pact on some­one’s men­tal health.”

Lara knows how dev­as­tat­ing this can be. She says, “When I was 13, I be­came re­ally low and anx­ious, even though ev­ery­thing in my life was good. I felt bad for feel­ing so sad, es­pe­cially be­cause when I logged on to so­cial me­dia all my friends seemed as though they were hav­ing a great time. It made me feel even worse. I tried to act nor­mal, but putting on a brave face be­came ex­haust­ing. So when I was 14, I told my mum that I was strug­gling and she took me to the GP.”

But Lara didn’t get the help she des­per­ately needed.

She says, “The doc­tor was re­ally dis­mis­sive. He told me that I was hor­monal. I felt hu­mil­i­ated that I’d made such a fuss so I stopped talk­ing about how I felt.”

SUI­CI­DAL

With no out­let for her feel­ings, Lara be­gan self-harm­ing.

She says, “Hurt­ing my­self helped ease the pain that I felt in­side. Ini­tially I would pinch, hit or scratch my­self when­ever I was feel­ing low, but it soon be­came a nightly rou­tine and I started cut­ting my­self, too. I blamed our dog for the cuts on my legs and cov­ered them with long jumpers and trousers, even in hot weather, so no one knew.”

This car­ried on for a number

of months, un­til Lara’s teacher no­ticed the marks on her body.

Lara says, “She told my par­ents, but no­body knew how to help me and things es­ca­lated un­til I be­came sui­ci­dal.”

At the start of 2014, Lara’s mum con­tacted her GP again, but was told to take her daugh­ter to A&E be­cause she was at im­me­di­ate risk of hurt­ing her­self.

Lara says, “They of­fered me coun­selling, but I wasn’t will­ing to ac­cept help, and over the next few months I re­peat­edly hurt my­self. My par­ents were des­per­ate. My mum even slept in my room, but I’d still find ways to harm. I lost all my friends be­cause they were scared and didn’t know how to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion.”

Then, in April 2014, Lara be­gan hear­ing voices telling her not to eat. She says, “The voices told me that they’d kill my par­ents if I ate food. Even­tu­ally, I be­came so scared that I starved my­self and dropped from 9st 4lbs to 5st 5lbs.”

Doc­tors put Lara on an­tide­pres­sants and anti-psy­chosis tablets, and in June 2014 she was sec­tioned. She says, “I felt like a zom­bie and just wanted to die.”

Af­ter five months in a spe­cial­ist clinic, Lara had learned tech­niques to deal with her self-harm­ing and was dis­charged. How­ever, a year later she re­turned as a day pa­tient as she was still be­ing treated for an eat­ing dis­or­der.

STRUG­GLE

She says, “I tried to dis­tract my­self with school work and man­aged to get straight As in my As-level ex­ams. The re­al­i­sa­tion that I only had one more year of school left gave me a re­al­ity check. I had spent all of my teenage years be­ing un­well and I was an­gry and up­set that I’d missed out on so many nor­mal things, like go­ing to prom or meet­ing my friends for brunch. I wanted to get bet­ter and en­joy those ex­pe­ri­ences.”

How­ever, Lara ad­mits that re­cov­ery isn’t easy. She says, “Ev­ery day is a strug­gle. Aca­demic pres­sure is def­i­nitely one of the rea­sons that so many young girls self-harm – I re­lapsed just be­fore my A-lev­els ear­lier this year be­cause I was so stressed. On top of this, so­cial me­dia paints un­re­al­is­tic im­ages of life and it def­i­nitely acted as a fuel for my self-harm. Now I try not to go on sites like In­sta­gram as much be­cause it can be so dam­ag­ing if you’re feel­ing low.”

But Lara has high hopes for the fu­ture. She says, “I’ll al­ways have my scars – I can’t change my past – but I’m de­ter­mined to speak out, help oth­ers and stop self-harm ru­in­ing more fu­tures.”

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