Many of the articles I write are influenced by something I will have seen or read in the media; often something profound, which elicits a strong and emotive reaction, to the extent I feel it is important to continue to raise awareness. As individuals, in most instances, we will only really get a very small insight into the challenges some people will face within society. As a therapist, I tend to gain more of an insight due to the nature of my job and the different clients I work with. Whilst there is very little I haven’t been faced with in the therapeutic setting, I haven’t become impervious to the disclosure and still find myself as moved now as I was when I began practicing.
This was certainly the case when recently I read an article centred round a longitudinal study which had found that self-harm in women and young girls had risen significantly. The study was conducted from 2000 to 2014 and saw an overall increase of 4%. What was perhaps more alarming was that the biggest increase was in the cohort of people aged 16-24 which had seen a rise of circa 13% from the beginning to the end of the study. The results of the study are clear, the rationale behind the statistics and the solution to the issue, perhaps not so much. 18-24 in particular has raised questions previously as individuals are moving from young persons services to the adult sector. There has been an argument there is a contrast between the level of support received in child and adult mental health services.
People self-harm for a variety of reasons. For some people it is a way of releasing built up emotions; for some it will be a cry for help; others may be punishing themselves. It can be influenced by pain, fear, frustration, guilt, anger or even shame. This list is by no means exhaustive and that in itself is the difficulty we face. There are so many influencing factors, it makes it extremely challenging to combat. There is an argument that societal pressures are increasing, particularly on young women. Taking on both the expressive and the instrumental role in the family, and doing this whilst having the expectations of how they should look and behave can present pressures in itself.
There have been several studies around why self-harm is more prominent in women than men. One of the arguments put forward perhaps ties in with why women historically have been 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, but men have been more likely to succeed, that is women are more likely than men to self-harm as a cry for help. So whilst some women may be reticent or unable to tell you about their pain or suffering, they can instead show you. Of course it would be spurious to make that assumption in all cases.
As with mental health per se, there has been a stigma around self-harm, with some dismissing it as simply attention seeking, however this is quite simply not the case, as many people who self-harm do it surreptitiously. It’s imperative, like with mental health across the board, that as a society we become more accepting and acknowledge these very real challenges people with experience. Only then will people be more likely to come forward and seek help.