Parents should engage with children affected by self-harm tendencies
It is closely linked to symptoms such as depression, tension, irritability, worrying, hopelessness and poor concentration.-Getty Images
Dubai - Accurate statistics on self-harm are difficult to find as the problem is often hidden.
Self-harm is a growing issue among youngsters across the world and in the UAE too, according to a psychiatrist who has called for greater awareness on the issue.
Dr Walid Abdul Hamid, clinical director of the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai Healthcare City, has called for greater awareness and education about self-harm in response to the many pressures posed by modern lifestyles such as social media.
Self-harm is a complex issue, but from friendships to body dissatisfaction to social media and exam pressures, there is little doubt that life as a 21st-century teenager can feel stressful - especially without a healthy coping strategy.
It is closely linked to symptoms such as depression, tension, irritability, worrying, hopelessness and poor concentration. A recent study by UK charity Young Minds, reported by the British Medical Journal, said self-harming is a 'major public health problem'.
The research found that self-harm reported to general practitioners (GP) among teenage girls under the age of 17 in the UK increased by 68 per cent over just three years. The data from 674 GPs across the UK found that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys.
According to Dr Walid the findings are likely to bear strong similarities to the UAE because the causes and issues are symptomatic of many of today's young people, no matter where they live. Furthermore, they are also reflected in an increasing number of young patients coming to him for help.
However, accurate statistics on self-harm are difficult to find as the problem is often hidden. Many sufferers are never admitted to the hospital, and a significant proportion may never seek professional help.
"Self-harm can involve damaging the body in a variety of ways, from cutting, burning, bruising and a loss of hair in patches, to one of the most common forms - self-poisoning, involving medication. While it is not always easy to spot, a tell-tale sign can be a change in clothing patterns. Wearing more long-sleeved tops and trousers instead of shorts, or more jewellery, is common in order to cover up any self-inflicted markings," he said.
"If parents suspect their child may be self-harming, which in itself can be extremely frightening, they can often be unsure of the best way to approach the subject," he explained.
"It's crucial to keep the lines of communication open - encourage children to talk about their distress in a calm and understanding manner. Allow them space to express their concerns and worries, but ensure they know you are always available as and when they need to talk through how this injury might have occurred, their feelings and anything that's upsetting them."
Dr Walid also explained why self-harm is more common among girls than boys: "The higher rate of girls inflicting self-harm can be put down to the fact as a sex they are more able to express their distress than males, who tend to hide it and self-medicate with alcohol or other means. As a result of this, young men are far more likely to experience suicidal thoughts due to feelings of complete isolation and despair."
In light of these findings and ample evidence that knowledge of mental ill health can help in the prevention and detection of these problems, Dr Walid believes that greater discussion in schools would help remove the stigma associated with self-harm.
He adds: "Studies have suggested that the media and, in particular, social media can have a negative influence on young people and in some instances, may actually help facilitate acts of self-harm. Internet chat rooms, for example, have been blamed for glorifying self-harm and suicide so it's vital both parents and teachers are aware of the dangers and put in place measures to manage this accordingly."
Seeking early help and support for anxiety or depression is proven to result in less long-term suffering. In the UAE, assessments can be booked with a child psychiatrist, and often brief therapeutic intervention can make a significant difference in a short period.
> If children have intense emotions and turn to self-harming, a less painful form could help them by involving ice. By holding ice really tightly, it feels like it is burning but will not do damage. As the ice melts they might feel their tension melt away.
> Be vigilant about the effects of media and social media and pay special attention to the sites children are exposed to. Regular monitoring, blocking access to specific sites, and imposing a time-limit on electronic devices is key. When on iPads etc, always encourage young people to be among family downstairs and actively discourage them from locking themselves away in their bedrooms.
> Give your child space. While it is important to encourage children to talk about their distress, try not to be over-bearing as this can have the opposite effect and result in them distancing themselves even further.
> Encourage children to have hobbies and interests outside the classroom. Sport and exercise can help improve mental health and increase resilience to mental health problems. Just 20 minutes a day can have a dramatic impact on mood and sleep patterns.
> Remind your child it's absolutely normal to experience strong emotions such as sadness, anger, fear and anxiety, but these don't last, and you can do things to help them such as watching funny YouTube clips, talking things through, taking exercise together, even if just going for a walk around the block.
> Ensure all medications are locked away at all times.
> Remind your child you love them unconditionally.
> It is extremely common for young people to 'catastrophise'; always thinking the very worst will happen. Help them to banish irrational thinking and gain a true perspective by focusing on their skills and qualities, and by discussing problems or situations from the past which they have successfully overcome.
> Encourage them to think about specific worries and concerns for a maximum of 10 minutes every morning and evening. This will encourage them to compartmentalise and 'switch-off'.
KT NANO EDIT
Start with the parentsOur kids are stressed. They are sleeping less and spend their waking hours with books and gadgets. They have fewer friends and are not interested in sport. Blame it on lifestyles. Pushy parents, peer pressure and demands of the modern education system are adding to their woes and before they know it they are all grown up. Slowing down is easier said than done but adults can be role models and can create the right environment at home. Happy families are talking families where parents set aside time for their kids. Going back to basics will help. Are parents listening?