Livewire - March 7, 2012

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By North West ChildLine service manager Kemi Olubodun

Counsellors at ChildLine bases in the North West received 1,364 contacts from children about self-harm last year (2010/11). This is a 75 per cent increase on the previous year.

Most who call us in relation to self-harm talk about depression, family relationships, mental health issues, abuse, neglect, worrying about being taken into care, or feeling lonely and suicidal.

We’ve always had calls about self-harm since ChildLine started but never on this scale.

We think it’s down to greater awareness and publicity, rather than more young people using self-harm as a way to deal with their issues. Traditionally, many have suffered in silence. However we’ve also seen a rise in hospital admissions and requests for all services, so self-harm is a critical issue for young people.

It helps that the issue has been aired on TV soap Emmerdale, although we might not always agree with the way in which it is portrayed.

X-Factor and N-Dubz star Tulisa (pictured) is also backing our campaign and encouraging young people to speak out. When celebrity figures hold their hands up, it makes others feel less shameful. That really helps.

Cutting and scratching are the most common ways of self harming.

Last year, our regional base received 599 contacts from girls, compared to just 63 from boys. One 16-year-old girl told us: “I want to run away so people won’t get to help me. I’ve taken an overdose and burnt my arm because I’m fed up with life. I’m in pain and the burn on my arm really hurts.”

We’ve had to call ambulances out many times. Confidentiality is high but we risk assess. How old are they, are they in pain, bleeding, how would they feel if we got help to them?

Some find it too shameful to talk about something they are hiding, covering their hands, wearing long sleeves.

We also get calls from adults who self-harmed as kids and never told anybody. They covered it up to avoid being bullied or taunted or because they didn’t want parents to know. They are not proud to say they self-harm.

We give them options, coping mechanisms, to try to break the pattern, ask how they feel, what makes them self-harm, signpost other organisations and services, and all the self-help stuff on our website.

And the one thing we always do is ask a child to come back to us. We have a high level of repeat calls. They know we care. We can support them through it.

n ChildLine on 0800 1111 and www.childline.org.uk