Why are our chil­dren hurt­ing so much?

The self-harm fig­ures are shock­ing – dis­cov­er­ing your child is among them is even more so, finds Guy Kelly

The Daily Telegraph - - Family & Features -

Five years ago, Clare Tur­ton re­ceived a phone call that fig­ures in ev­ery par­ent’s night­mares. A sin­gle mother, she had just re­turned to full-time em­ploy­ment in an NHS hospi­tal near her home in Not­ting­ham, af­ter work­ing part-time for years while her chil­dren were in pri­mary school.

Thanks to reg­u­lar 12-hour shifts, a nor­mal day saw Clare leave the house be­fore Bethany, then 14, got up for school – and re­turn af­ter she and her younger brother got home.

The “ships in the night” ar­range­ment wasn’t ideal, she says, but it was fine: Bethany had her head in a book, or a pen­cil in hand, and was happy in her room on her own. Be­sides, she was a teenager – not talk­ing to her mother was nor­mal.

One day when Tur­ton was driv­ing home from work, how­ever, Bethany’s school called. “I had al­ready been speak­ing to them about a bul­ly­ing prob­lem she had been suf­fer­ing,” Tur­ton, 43, says. “They told me she’d had a fight in the class­room and in drag­ging her out, they’d touched her arm and she’d winced. They asked

‘I thought, is it my fault? How can I not have seen the scars?’

her to pull up her sleeves and there were self-harm­ing scars all over them.”

Tur­ton was over­whelmed with shock – and guilt. “I thought, is it my fault? Have I been miss­ing the signs? How can I not have seen the scars?” And, most ur­gently: “What do I do?”

It is a ques­tion an in­creas­ing num­ber of par­ents are be­ing forced to ask. This week, a Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety re­port sug­gested that more than a fifth of 14-year-old girls – and al­most one in 10 boys – in the UK have self-harmed.

The data was col­lected in the 2015 Mil­len­nium Co­hort Study, a con­tin­u­ing re­search project fol­low­ing 19,000 chil­dren born in the UK be­tween 2000 and 2001. Of those, more than 11,000 were asked whether they had hurt them­selves on pur­pose in the last year. Out of 5,624 girls who re­sponded, 1,237 said they had.

It is an is­sue that the Lib Dem peer, Baroness Walm­s­ley, called an “epi­demic” in the House of Lords last Novem­ber, fol­low­ing a Univer­sity of Manch­ester study that noted a 68per cent rise in the num­ber of teenage girls treated for self-harm in­juries over the pre­vi­ous three years.

Though not part of the sur­vey, Bethany fits into the pre­cise age bracket be­ing fol­lowed. Tur­ton went home and “just held her, and sobbed, telling her we will deal with it to­gether”. It later tran­spired that she’d been hid­ing the signs for over a year.

“I was so dumb­founded that I hadn’t known, or seen her arms in that en­tire time. She al­ways wore long sleeves, even un­der a T-shirt, but that was just her style. Teenagers can get amaz­ingly cre­ative and crafty at hid­ing things.”

Tur­ton dis­cov­ered Bethany had been harm­ing her­self as a means of cop­ing with the at­tacks from bul­lies, which oc­curred in per­son through­out the day and con­tin­ued – in an even more vi­cious fash­ion, in­clud­ing de­mands she take her own life – on so­cial me­dia once she got home. As with many teenagers, self-harm was ap­peal­ing be­cause it was a pain she could con­trol. Wor­ry­ingly, how­ever, the Univer­sity of Manch­ester study found a his­tory of self-harm to be the strong­est risk fac­tor for sub­se­quent sui­cide. “There is no one rea­son why young peo­ple are do­ing this, and there are many, many ways of self-harm­ing, far beyond just cut­ting,” says Dr Ni­hara Krause, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist with al­most 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in teenage and adult men­tal health. Through her char­ity stem4, she has cre­ated Calm Harm, an app that takes vic­tims through a self-help guide when­ever they feel the urge to hurt them­selves. So far, it has been down­loaded more than 800,000 times around the world. “I have a lot of sym­pa­thy for par­ents and teach­ers, be­cause chil­dren are com­plex and mod­ify their emo­tional re­sponses a lot, but young peo­ple are un­der a lot of pres­sure,” she says.

The head­lines tend to be grabbed by girls, but boys aren’t im­mune – just harder to di­ag­nose, thanks both to their na­ture (stereo­typ­i­cally, even less talkative) and their meth­ods. “They can also be harm­ing them­selves through acts of phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion,” Dr Krause says. “We think of burns, cuts, slow-in­flicted wounds as self-harm, but so is drink­ing, drugs, punch­ing a wall or get­ting into fights.” Though the es­ca­la­tion in these fig­ures is strik­ing, Krause is not keen to de­scribe them as an “epi­demic”

– for the sake of sug­gestible young peo­ple, not just se­man­tics. “We need to be aware of not en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to try things out. If you say there are a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple in each class self-harm­ing, they might won­der if they should be do­ing it.” Tur­ton went first to Bethany’s GP and teach­ers, and then the NHS’S child and ado­les­cent men­tal health ser­vice. “There was a four-month wait­ing list for a one-to-one ses­sion ev­ery month where Bethany could talk. It gave her in­sight in how to help her­self, but like any NHS ser­vice, it was over­stretched.”

Tur­ton cut down her hours and ar­ranged for friends and fam­ily to be there when she couldn’t be, but Bethany only man­aged to com­pletely stop self-harm­ing last year, with the help of the char­ity Harm­less – who also helped in her di­ag­no­sis with high­func­tion­ing Asperger’s syn­drome – just as she fin­ished her A-lev­els. Tur­ton says the 18-year-old now “has the spark back in her eyes”, and is pre­par­ing to go to univer­sity to study fine arts. She never did drop the sketch­ing pen­cil. “We fought through it. Ev­ery day was a new day and I never, ever got an­gry. That would be my ad­vice,” Tur­ton says. “You can’t pun­ish them, but have to show them it’s OK to ask for help, OK to fail and that the only way is to talk.”

Open up: talk­ing is the best way to get through to your chil­dren

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.