As a clinician and someone with an interest in young people's mental health, I have noticed that many young people are self-harming - a behaviour that in the past was less common. In "Young Minds Matter" a summary of the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing published this year, the authors find that "1 in 12 adolescents aged 12-17 have self-harmed in the past 12 months." A worrying statistic - unfortunately, self-harm is becoming more and more common.
So why do young people do it? I think it is for many reasons, not all of which can be summarised here. Often it is a coping mechanism for feeling states which are overwhelming to the young person, who may be struggling with the stresses of home and school or coming to terms with discovering who they are and how to be. Adolescence and young adulthood is a time of tumultuous emotions and some young people find cutting or other forms of self-harm will help them to ride the storms - temporarily. It can become the go-to "solution" which they revisit when everything becomes too much.
Parents who discover that their child is self-harming are often too shocked and overwhelmed themselves to understand that for the young person the behaviour is intrinsically rewarding - it helps them feel better. Often a discovery of self-harm can lead to a power struggle - a tussle between child and parent over what is, for parents, a very distressing behaviour. Its important to get to the bottom of why a child is behaving in this way, rather than just trying to prevent them from doing it.
If you would like more information on self-harm or if you are worried about a young person who is self-harming, please contact me via the "get in touch" button.