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We Need to Break the Taboo Surrounding Self Harm and Start Talking About It

One in 12 children and young people deliberately self-harm with around 40,000 cases needing hospitalisation each year because their injuries are so severe. Those statistics alone suggest that we must do more to help children and young people who are turning to self-harm and our new research shows how imperative this task is.

Research by YoungMinds and the Cello group launched today shows:
• Three out of four young people simply do not know where to turn to talk about self-harm
• A third of parents would not seek professional help if their child was self-harming
• Almost half GPs feel that they don’t understand young people who self-harm and their motivations
• Two in three teachers don’t know what to say to young people who self-harm

The research findings are worrying. Among young people, parents, teachers and GPs self-harm is considered more concerning and more serious than many high-profile youth issues such as youth gangs, drugs, binge-drinking or eating disorders. Young people themselves also rank self harm as a very high area of concern.

Myths, misconceptions and lack of understanding characterize self-harm, our research shows it can be viewed as too serious with links to suicide or too trivial to prompt action by being seen as attention seeking. With this polarisation of views it makes it really difficult for people to seek or provide support.

As a society we feel ill equipped to talk to young people about self-harm and at the same time young people are saying they don’t know where to turn. If as our research shows, parents, teachers and GPs don’t feel equipped and confident then is it any wonder that young people are stuck not knowing where to go?

Only one in 10 young people are comfortable seeking advice from teachers, parents and GPs. Over half would go online to get support about self-harm despite only one in five trusting online sources. Thousands of young people are getting emotional support from online communities rather than going to their parents, teachers or GPs. Everyone concerned about the emotional wellbeing of young people needs to acknowledge and accept this and look at why young people are supporting each other online.

We shouldn’t blame people for not being confident or equipped our research shows a real desire for people to be able to talk to young people about self harm. The majority of people believe that they need to be able to offer support to young people who self-harm; however, nobody feels empowered to act.

Thousands of young people are suffering in silence every day. Our research demonstrates that we need to break the conspiracy of silence around self-harm so young people feel more able to seek support and parents, teachers and GP’s feel equipped to provide it. We also need to find ways to breach the gap online that exists between adults who want to help but don’t know how to enter the online space and young people who find peer support there but may also come across the more negative and dark side of online communication.

The YoungMinds Parents’ Helpline offers free confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25.

Call us free on 0808 802 5544  Monday to Friday 9.30am-4pm or email parents@youngminds.org.uk