Parents and Young People Divided When it comes to Self-Harm

Alice Victor
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1 Mar 2016

Today is Self-Harm Awareness Day 2016. Two new surveys, commissioned by a group of leading UK youth charities, including YoungMinds, suggest that there is a gap in understanding between young people and parents about self-harm and where young people should go for support.

YoungMinds, YouthNet/Get Connected, SelfharmUK and ChildLine commissioned a poll of 815 parents of children and young people aged 11- 24, alongside a survey of 3,800 young people up to the age of 24 who self-harm.

The surveys revealed the differences in the beliefs of parents and young people when it comes to self-harm.

Getting Help

Sixty seven per cent of parents think that young people should go to their parents for information and support for self-harm, while 66% thought they should go to their GP. In fact, only 16% of young people who self-harm would actually choose to talk to their parents about it. Out of the young people who responded to the survey:

  • only 27% would go to their doctor
  • 61% said they would turn to friends
  • 76% would turn to online groups like Get Connected or Self Harm UK (75% of parents also thinking this). 

Unhelpful Perceptions

Both young people and parents agree that public perceptions of self-harm are unhelpful. Fifty three per cent of parents, and 67% of young people who self-harm agreed that public understanding of self-harm "often" or "always" prevented people from talking about it. 

Young people said that the main reasons they self-harm are:

  • low self-esteem
  • bullying
  • depression

Parents believed the main reasons were:

  •  bullying
  •  abuse
  •  family breakdown

Attention Seeking

Forty per cent of parents thought that “seeking attention” was one of the reasons young people usually self-harm. In the survey with young people, 80% answered the open question “is there anything else you would want people to know about self-harm?” by saying that they wished people didn’t think self-harm was attention-seeking. 

John Cameron from ChildLine said:

“Many parents really want to offer support for self-harm, but don't know how to broach the subject with their children; meanwhile the stigma and misconceptions around it, including the fact that many people see it as just attention-seeking behaviour, can make it more difficult for young people to be open with their parents.

We at NSPCC/ChildLine, together with our charity partners, want to raise awareness of our services which offer comprehensive support to both young people and their parents on this issue.”

Real-life stories

Trevor, a parent who worked with YoungMinds to develop an advice pack about self-harm, said:

Having found out my child was self-harming; I was so devastated and confused as to why. My emotions were all over the place, not knowing how to help her, where to go for professional help - it was so stressful. As a father I just wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool.”

“Back then I didn't know there were groups and services that could or would help her. But I did know it was hugely important to let my daughter know she was not alone. We, her family, were all here for her, to help her get better, support her through the darkest of times and help her feel safe.” 

Emily-Jade, a volunteer with YouthNet, said:

“I remember the first time my mum found out I was self-harming, she told me it wasn’t serious and I was just being pathetic. I thought she’d understand as she herself was a self-harmer, even to this day she still believes I'm attention seeking. From that moment I made sure to pretend everything was okay, until I logged online and would pour my heart out to online help services.”

Five Tips for Parents

These are top five tips for parents, from a young person who self-harms: 

1. Try not to judge

“My parents didn't like it but they didn't think it made me a bad person.”

2. Be honest

“My parents told me they didn't get it - nor did I. Their honesty and questions helped me to open up about it.”

 3. Accept recovery as a process

“I can't stop. Not right now. If you ask me to, I'll feel like I'm letting you down. It's going to take time.”

4. Listen

“My dad said very little. He just listened. It was exactly what I needed.”

5. Talk about other things too

“I'm more than my self-harm. It doesn't have to be the focus of every conversation.” 

You can follow the Self-Harm Awareness Day activity on Twitter via #SHAD16.

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