Reprinted from "Young People: Self-Injury" issue of Visions Journal, 2017, 13 (2), p. 4
I don’t remember self-injury (the preferred term, less vague than ‘self-harm’) being a thing when I was in high school in the early 90s. Maybe it’s always been there but was just well hidden; maybe it is actually more common now. When 15–20% of young people report at least one episode of nonsuicidal self-injury,1 it’s something we all need to understand better. Even though youth popular culture references self-injury more than it ever used to, our service system hasn’t entirely caught up, especially the medial system. Too often, self-injury, like suicidal behaviours or substance use problems are treated as entirely rational decisions—and so the person can easily be blamed and then dismissed—and the underlying distress or motivation is overlooked. There is ageism, too. Troubling changes in younger people are still routinely minimized as ‘a phase,’ or ‘teen angst’ or ‘drama.’ Young people may internalize this view and delay seeking help.
The personal stories in this issue are profound. I am struck by how many difficult experiences many youth have had to navigate, and who have coped as best as they could. When youth tried to tell someone, sometimes they were met with ignorance as in “Can’t you just stop?” Other times, they were met with nonjudgemental support and compassion and it was a major turning point in recovery. Someone else who notices this is Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd who took her own life five years ago in a story that involved Youtube, cyberbullying, sexual exploitation…and self-injury. Carol recently told radio listeners who might be parents or other adults to a young person to have more conversations about mental health and to ask about self-injury, to ask about suicide in a caring way. She urged adult supporters to listen more, judge less, to not be afraid and to keep having conversations.
This Visions supports those same themes. If you want to extend your learning beyond this issue, join some of our contributors for a “tweet chat” Q&A in November. Follow us on Twitter (@HeretoHelpBC) to get the details.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division
Klonsky, E.D., Victor, S.E. & Saffer, B.Y. (2014). Nonsuicidal self-injury: What we know and what we need to know. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 59(11), 565-568.