Revealed: ‘Crisis’ of self-harming amongst teenagers

Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath Pickles. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath Pickles. Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

Urgent action is needed to fix a crisis which sees around one in four 14-year-old girls self-harm, a Suffolk mental health campaigner has said.

Sarah Barrett. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Sarah Barrett. Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

The Children’s Society has warned of a “crisis in children’s mental health” after a survey found 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the United Kingdom, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.

Sarah Barrett, from Southwold, knows better than most why young people are driven to such sad and desperate extremes, having spoken openly of how she self-harmed after experiencing childhood sexual abuse and bullying at school.

Today, she speaks out to urge others not to make the same choice.

She warned of a “vicious circle” where young people regrettably self-harm as a “painful distraction” from their worries - feeling they have nowhere to turn once they start, exacerbating their problems.

Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath Pickles. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath Pickles. Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

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“There’s a lot of bullying that is done on social media, which you can’t get away from even when you are at home,” said Miss Barrett, who set up her Fight the Stigma campaign to raise awareness of mental ill health.

“I self-harmed from the age of 10 but it got worse when I got to high school, because of the bullying.

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“Then people found out about the self-harm, and I was bullied for that. It is a vicious circle.”

She said that more people in positions of responsibility, such as teachers, need to be aware of the signs of self-harming so they can help before it is too late.

And when they do intervene, there needs to be support available for young people to help them stop, she said.

“People don’t recognise the signs and most people who self-harm don’t normally tell anyone,” said Miss Barrett, who last year organised a Warrior Walk along Lowestoft seafront to raise awareness of the issue.

“People who self-harm often wear long sleeves and are withdrawn.

“Teachers need to be told what the warning signs are.”

Children’s Society chief executive Matthew Reed said: “It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming.

“Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.”

Case study: Sarah Barrett

Having lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after surviving childhood sexual abuse, Sarah Barrett regrettably could only think of one way to cope.

Struggling to deal with what happened, she tried – unsuccessfully – to find solace in self-harm.

It didn’t work and is something she has regretted for the rest of her life, not least because it left her with terrible lasting injuries and put her life in danger.

But she has since bravely spoken out about it in the hope she can persuade others not to make the same choice.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about self-harm and why people do it,” she explained.

“If someone is in the early stages of self-harm, it is important to be aware of where this painful, addictive behaviour could take you.”

National reaction

Children’s Society chief executive Matthew Reed said that ministers now needed to act.

He said: “Early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2 billion funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.”

Roy Perry, who chairs the Local Government Association children and young people board, said the figures revealed a “crisis in children’s mental health”.

He added: “This is why we are calling for councils and schools to be given the funding to offer independent mental health counselling so pupils have access to support as and when they need it.

“Councils across the country work hard to ensure children and young people can access the support they need. However, with children’s services facing a £3 billion funding gap by 2025, this is getting increasingly difficult.

“Many councils are being forced to cut early intervention work, including youth services, which helps children avoid reaching crisis point, perform better at school and avoid mental health issues in later life.”

He added: “We need to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.”

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), added: “Education around issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality is also desperately needed and should be included in the new relationships and sex education curriculum.”

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