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…
❛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.”
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.
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.”