Charities demand action over rise in Harrogate self-harm figures

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Editorial image

Self harming among children as young as ten has risen by more than 184 per cent from 2012 to 2013.

Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request revealed that 37 children, aged between 10-14, were admitted to Harrogate and District hospital in 2013.

This number had risen dramatically from the previous two years when 13 children were admitted in 2012 and only eight in 2011.

Since January this year, up until the end of July, there have also been ten children treated in hospital after deliberately hurting themselves.

Heather Davies, Team Manager at the Child and Adolescent Mental Heath Services (CAMHS), said she has noticed an increase of children self harming and said the number could be even higher.

She said: “What you are seeing is the number of people admitted to hospital after self-harming but the number might be even higher than that considering the amount who are not admitted.

“We have noticed that the numbers of children self-harming has increased but that does not necessarily mean that they have a mental health problem. It might just indicate that they are distressed.

“The problem of self-harming does need to be talked about more in order to understand the different aspects of it and the problems that need to be worked through.

“It can be very dangerous and worrying for the child but also for the family who are struggling to understand what issues their child is facing.”

While children who have been admitted to hospital for self harm are treated by doctors for their physical injuries, CAMHS plays the important supporting role to understand the child’s situation and emotional difficulties.

A self-harming child is kept overnight at hospital before being seen by a CAMHS professional who conducts an assessment of their stress and well-being.

Mrs Davies said that the more information they can gather from the child the better understanding they have of the situation, and stressed the importance of communication.

She said: “Our approach is to understand the situation and to understand their level of distress and to find out what the underlying cause of their emotional difficulty might be.

“Sometimes children find it hard to communicate their stresses but we need to try and help them, listen to them, and try and work out what their situation is and how they are coping. Life is so hectic and there’s so much misunderstanding around self harm. I think it needs to be taken extremely serious and for us to try and find ways to manage their pain.”

Despite recognising the severity of the figures, Mrs Davies said she doubted the amount of ten and eleven-year-olds self harming and said the majority would have been 13 and 14.

She said: “I would probably say a large number of those children are 13 or 14 because that is around the age they start secondary school and there is a lot of emotional pressures and stresses there.

“We have to remember, however, that deliberate self harm is not a mental condition in its own right. People might develop a mental illness but that is quite separate. From childhood to adulthood, self-harm is a way of communicating distress.”

Young Minds, a children and young people’s wellbeing and mental health charity, defined self-harm as choosing to inflict pain on themselves in some way.

Self-harm can take a number of forms.

Alison Pedlingham, Matron for Maternity and Paediatrics at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Any incident of self harm is of course very concerning, and especially so when it involves a child or young person. We place the highest importance on our nurses and doctors looking after anyone admitted as a result of self harm with the utmost care and compassion, which involves not only treating their physical injuries, but offering support and someone to talk to if that is what they want. We work very closely with our partners in mental health, social services and our own Safeguarding Children service if necessary, to offer all the help we can to anyone who comes into hospital due to self-harm.”

Recent NHS figures revealed that the number of children who self-harm had increased by more than 70 per cent in the past two years to record levels.

Kathryn Ashworth, Chief Executive of Relate Mid Yorkshire Children & Young Person’s Service said self-harming needed to be ‘cracked down on’ considering the recent findings.

She said: “The numbers are increasing but I don’t know what has changed over that time. Self-harm has become almost normalised to some extent. It becomes the only way that people know how to manage their stress and it’s a new way of coping with pressures.

“Children are experiencing a lot more stress at an early age than ever before. We see a lot more children having issues with their school and their family at home and I wonder, in the past, whether the pressures were quite so complex.

“It is something we need to crack down on because we are seeing an increase in the amount of young-people self harming due to their pressures and it needs to be taken more seriously.”

Mrs Ashworth identified some of the pressures faced by children as complex family and friend relationships and the rise of cyber-bullying.

“Self harm does not help you cope at all, it just hides the real problem. If people are feeling sad they might want to self-harm but it’s just a sign that something deeper is going on.

“It’s very easy to be dismissive of it as just a cry for help but it needs to be taken very seriously.”

Relate Mid-Yorkshire Children & Young People’s Service

Relate Mid-Yorkshire are a confidential counselling service, in Harrogate, Selby and York, for five to 18-year olds struggling with emotional difficulties.

Kathryn Ashworth, Chief Executive of the charity, said it offers counselling to both children and their families in a safe space to reflect on their feelings.

Mrs Ashworth stressed, in cases of self-harm, communication is crucial and counselling helps the child understand how they feel whilst finding better ways to cope.

She said: “The children need to talk to somebody that is not going to judge them and be completely objective. They are dealing with complex issues and need to be shown that their problems are being taken seriously.

“Some of the children we see do use self-harm as a coping mechanism but we try and help them reflect on these feelings through communication and having this safe place to go.

“However, if somebody was seriously self-harming, we would refer them to a GP but we would still work with them to finother ways of coping.

“We want them to consider what they can do about these pressures so they don’t feel helpless to talk about it. They need to find other ways of coping because everybody does have amazing resilience and resistance.

Wellspring Therapy and Training

Wellspring Therapy and Training is a counselling and training centre based in Starbeck, providing psychological support for people in distress while promoting good mental health.

The service offers one to one counselling and therapeutic group work to young people between the ages of eight to 18 and deals with issues around self harm.

Maggie Buckley, a Youth Counsellor, said the service offers young people a ‘safe, caring, confidential and non judgemental environment where they can talk freely’. She said: “When young people self harm it can often stem from a feeling of being out of control in their life. some triggers for this can include family issues, trauma, school pressures, peer-pressure, bullying and cyber bullying.

“The group work that we do at Wellspring Youth Counselling is for young people from 14 to 16 years.

“They can access the course by being referred by schools, organisations, youth workers, and parents although some young people self-refer.

“Although dysfunctional, self- harming can develop into a coping strategy to give a sense of release of emotional pain or release of stress and anxiety. It is also a way that a young person might show to others that they need some help.

“By helping young people to address their underlying issues and help them to find healthy copingstrategies we often find that the self- harming behaviour naturally subsides.”