We must address the rise in the number of children being hospitalised for self-harm
There are more young people than ever harming themselves in the UK right now.
It can be hard for us to imagine, especially as parents and teachers who see different sides of their personalities coming through, and in many cases perhaps still see them as children.
But it’s easy for me to picture, because back in my own teenage years, I was one of them.
It was the 1990s, and I felt pressure — from school, for good grades.
From my peers for not fitting in or being enough — pretty enough, smart enough, popular enough.
And from my parents, for the mistaken belief I had that I was always going to disappoint them.
How I went from a happy, healthy, well-loved little blonde kid with a smattering of freckles and a belly full of laughs to a damaged, scared and tired teen dying her hair crazy colours and filled with anxiety and self-loathing is up for debate.
No one reason can be given for why people chose to self harm, but in the broadest of terms, it’s a physical realisation of the feelings of depression.
And while not everyone chooses to cut the pain away, those who do can get caught in a spiral.
They call it a ‘cry for help’, but when I was cutting, I wasn’t crying out for anyone to hear me.
I wore long sleeves and didn’t go swimming — hated summer in case my wardrobe choices, certain never to include the vest tops other 14-year-olds were wearing, became the focus of any interest, at home or with friends.
I dealt with the issues, and came out stronger than I was, although the criss-cross of scars on my teenage body has remained into my adult life, a reminder that sometimes you can’t bear what is happening to you.
The new figures out this week from the NSPCC show that there has been a sharp increase in self harming among the age group 13 to 17.
This is a cause for alarm, not least because those ‘cries for help’ can spiral into something much more serious and, in some cases, fatal.
It’s been reported that nearly 19,000 children received hospital treatment for self-harm in 2015 — a 14% increase since 2012.
Of course there will be those who say it could be anecdotal — but the spike suggests there is a direct correlation between their online lives and these figures.
Bullying on our all-pervasive around-the-clock social media hasn’t helped make us more mentally secure.
Young people are finding themselves inspired into cutting, burning and harming themselves because of the mental issues they’re suffering.
I didn’t have social media to refer to as a possible cause.
I just had a very unhappy inner self, a depression which was unnoticed and untreated because I didn’t understand what was happening.
But now the NSPCC is telling us that the children who are doing this are struggling to cope with the pressures of modern life.
One of those pressures — a massive one — is the constant monitoring of our young selves online.
Childline’s president, Dame Esther Rantzen, said that self harm has “become one of the most common problems young people bring to us”.
In a way, I’m glad that Childline is hearing from these young people, because addressing it and discussing the shame that teens feel at this darkest of secrets is a way to expose it to the light and help solve the issue.
But as Dr Jon Goldin, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told the Guardian, the pressure of social media on children and adolescents is to look good and as if they are having a good time — one which can become a constant torment if you’re struggling with feeling unhappy inside.
He also cites the lack of optimism for young people about their futures and the world around them.
Heartbreaking as it is to hear, these worries still press on us all every day.
But as someone who self harmed and got through it, I believe now that more needs to be done to serve these children.
Schools and parents must work together to prevent mental health problems and to show these tortured young people that there is light at the end of the tunnel.