SELF-HARMING IN TEENS
My new novel GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL deals with the issue of self-harm, among others. This post delves into this issue a bit deeper, as many children nowadays deal with emotional injuries that may lead them to self-harming.
The character Shayla – one of the three protagonists – at 17 years old, is somewhat older than the group of teen girls that is most at risk for self-harming. Her general delay in maturity is explained in the novel as a result from deprivation and isolation during the first ten years of her life.
In a recent article from The Guardian (link below) self-harm is described as rising among teenage girls under the age of 17, and increased by 68% over just three years, research from the UK revealed. The study also found that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys, with those who self-harmed at much greater risk of suicide than those who did not. Repeat episodes of self-harm were more common among girls.
Nav Kapur, professor of psychiatry and population health at the University of Manchester, and a co-author of the study states: “One of the big messages here is that self-harm is complex – it is about schools, it is about families, it is about health professionals and teachers all working together trying to tackle the problem.”
The study also found self-harming to be more common among children and teenagers living in deprived areas. Such youngsters were less likely to be referred to mental health services within 12 months of their first incident than those in more affluent areas. Youngsters who self-harmed were about nine times more likely to die an unnatural death than those who did not, 17 times more likely to die from suicide, and 34 times more likely to die from acute alcohol or drug poisoning.
Through scenes on TV news specials, we are very familiar in British Columbia (and throughout Canada) with the struggles of indigenous youth with self-harming and drug use, death from suicide a real risk. Yes, they are often living in deprived areas, or are deprived in other ways, possibly experienced intergenerational abuse of some kind, as many parents have a history from abuse at residential schools. The promise of our government to ensure that our First Nations will have the funds and services that are equivalent to those in the southern urban areas, is lacking grossly and is, as of yet, unfulfilled.
Children in foster care of any enthnic background are likely to have experienced deprivation in various forms. They are many more times at risk for problems with their self image and are less resilient than children living with their biological families.
Shayla is insecure about her looks, her smarts, and her friends, wondering if they even like her, and she is obsessed about her prospects with her crush, Eric. Her world collapses when her dad leaves the family and her adopted mother won’t allow her access to her biological family when her half-sister gets in touch via Facebook.
It takes some time for Bernice to realize that Shayla has mental health issues; Shayla has learned to hide it well from her mother, and mom has many other cases in her work life to deal with. Add to that the problems she has with her husband, who is straying under the pressures of a family with four children and the economic down-turn.
The article mentions that previous research has suggested a growing number of young women are experiencing mental health problems, with contributing factors including worries about appearance. The rise of social media, and online content around self-harming could also play a role, noted the team.
Shayla shoplifts to make herself feel better and to boost her appearance, and she wants to look good for Eric. She is preparing for an adult relationship and wants to discover sex. She needs to break the (over?)-protective hold of her mother over her comings and goings. She is eager to catch up to her friends, who already had sex. She becomes secretive to reach that goal.
“That is the early period of adolescence where young people are changing most rapidly [and it is] perhaps the most stressful,” said Kapur, pointing out that only half of people who present to health services as a result of self-harm get a proper assessment from a mental health professional. “The inequalities in access to specialist treatment uncovered by this research and the poor prognosis for these young people highlights the need for greater resources to help support young people and improve access to treatment,” she said.
Luckily, Shayla has a mother who is knowledgeable and who eventually discovers in a dramatic scene that her daughter does have some emotional difficulties that she needs help with. Also luckily, the family lives in an urban centre, where mental health children’s services are available, although the existing wait lists are a problem. Shayla is expected to catch up over time as she is dealing with her emotional issues with the help of a mental health professional and the support of her family, especially her adoptive mother, a social worker, and her recovered biological dad.