COLUMN: Why children self harm...and how to spot the signs, by Jason Hanson, counsellor

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Last year the NSPCC reported around 19,000 children had been admitted to hospital for self-harming in 2015.

The significance of the figure doesn’t become apparent until we add the detail that there has been a 14 per cent rise over the last three years.

It may surprise you that self harm is mainly prominent in people aged 11 to 25 and whilst most people have had their first experience by the age of 12, children as young as seven have been known to harm themselves.

There are many reasons behind why people do harm themselves and whilst we see youth as an age of innocence with little worry or concern, the statistics tell a very different story. The pressures and strains of everyday life are more synonymous with adulthood, but the increasing pressures children are experiencing on a daily basis, are something we need to be more aware of, and sensitive to. There is a common myth with self-harming that it is undertaken by people seeking attention. Actually, most people will self harm in secret and will not disclose to others.

In addition to this, more than half of the people who die by suicide will have a history of self harm. This gives you an insight into the severity of the problem and an understanding of why it is so important to tackle the causes behind self-harm.

In a society where we are becoming digital at a much earlier age, it is intelligible to see why cyber bullying is on the increase. Add to this the pressures of performing academically, fitting in with the right social groups, having the right look and wearing the right attire and you can see how some children are effectively walking a tight rope from an early age.

When individuals self-harm they do so for many reasons. Sometimes it is to release frustration and anxieties, a way to express and communicate the internal despair. Sometimes it is to punish themselves if they have low self-esteem and believe the things which happen to them are their own fault. Others may feel they have little to no control over their lives and these actions are something they do have control over and can dictate.

The problem is it can become addictive to the individual and end up in a cycle which can be difficult to get out of. So an individual self-harms to release the tension and emotions they are experiencing. As a result of this however, they will then feel guilt at their actions and return to self-harm.

Being more vigilant of signs of self-harm is a positive step. Parents, carers teachers and authorities all have a role to play to offer that support and make children more aware of the dangers of certain behaviours, whilst also promoting the support available. Some of the signs may involve the individual wishing to cover up their body, becoming more secretive and avoiding any activities which may involve them part of their body such as swimming. Be mindful of sudden changes in behaviour, but try to work from an earlier age on more preventative measures. It’s about educating children that it’s ok to feel like that and it’s ok to talk about it.