Dr Alys Cole-King writes:
“I have just read the article on self harm in today’s Daily Mail (6/9/12, p.47). I am very disappointed. I contributed to the piece in good faith and spent a considerable amount of time preparing a summary of the current research evidence and giving the journalist an accurate picture of the problem.
The journalist has quoted me correctly but I am extremely concerned in the level of repetitive detail in the article regarding the methods used in self harm. The opening paragraph is particularly lurid and sensationalist. I asked the journalist specifically not to include this kind of detail, pointing out the evidence that publicising methods of self harm can lead to increased incidence of self harming behaviour.
I am equally dismayed by the lack of any positive message in the article regarding what people can do to help themselves, or to support people they are worried about. I am deeply concerned that the article may cause worry and distress to vulnerable young people and their family and friends. A parent or relative of a young person who self harms, on reading this article is likely to feel more hopeless rather less, since there is no positive message given or information about the various sources of help and support available. As a parent it would upset and concern me to read the article if I did not know all the positive aspects as I do, particularly that people can be helped and that a lot of self-harming behaviour in adolescents resolves on its own – a fact which itself could provide a great deal of hope and reassurance to many.
It is easy for young people to feel overwhelmed when upsetting things happen. They have not yet developed or refined their coping skills and they may feel that some problems are outside of their control or with no simple answer. Enhancing coping and resilience by helping them think about developing personal control can make the difference. In addition, ‘Talking not Harming’ is an important transition in the road to recovery – the more appropriate supportive opportunities available for an individual who self-harms, the greater the likelihood distress can be minimised.
- Every contact with individuals who self-harm is a chance to address the emotional distress that they are feeling.
- Early intervention can prevent escalation of self-harming behaviours and can establish other coping strategies that are not harmful.
- It is never too late to take action to help a situation that seems hopeless.
Concerned adults should respond in a caring and non judgemental way. This will create a good foundation for your discussions
This in turn will enhance the willingness of the young person to accept further help and thus may lead to reduction of self-harming behaviours. Suggestions for talking to a someone who you think has self-harmed or is thinking about self –harm involve:
- Calm, caring manner
- Active listening
- Open body language
- Safe environment where you will not be interrupted
- Non-judgemental/no blame approach
- Appropriate eye contact
- Reflection – show them that you are listening to what they are telling you
It is never too late to take action to help a situation that seems hopeless- Help is available if you just know what to do and where to go.
Many people do not know how to approach someone who they think might be engaging in self -harm and people who are distressed or overwhelmed and considering self harm do not know where to go for help. We have produced a series of leaflets on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists giving information on how to cope.
The U Can Cope resource is particularly aimed towards young people to build their ability to cope with life’s difficulties and build their resilience. This is freely available via the internet and we are also raising money via the U Can Cope charity to distribute pocket sized leaflets as widely as possible.
These are available for free through the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Connecting with People website
Royal College of Psychiatrists: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfo/youngpeople/ ucancope.aspx
And the Connecting with People website http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/
Finally, I would like everyone to know that:
- Thousands of people are overwhelmed every day … but find ways to get through these intense feelings - like them, you can get through it
- You just have to cope with one day at a time
- Your distress can be a sign that you need to change something in your life”