Today I am writing from the heart and as part of a series with a group of bloggers to hopefully highlight some key issues surrounding mental health awareness, if you’d like to follow the series then the chick who came up with this wonderful idea was Admissions of a working mother, hitting this link will allow you see the entire collaboration. I personally jumped at the chance and am proud to be collaborating on such a ‘fog’ aspect of society. I do not claim to be an expert – I am merely sharing my experiences of the girls that I have had the delight to work with (I’m a Nurture Teacher in an all girls secondary school) on their journey through the ‘fog’ of mental health and in particular self harm.
I used the term ‘fog’ as there are no rights or wrongs, no person self harms for the same reason another might nor do they harm in the same manner, some make cuts that vary in size and depth, usually in hidden locations, hence that the statistics that surround self harm are just as vague – it’s thought that 13% of 11-16 year old’s will self harm at some point, more worryingly is how many teenagers never tell a soul, seek help or confide, they are the missing statistics. Self harm can also be an eating disorder, self bruising, cutting / marking, abuse of alcohol / drugs.
When girls at school disclose information and I call home parents frequently asked questions surrounding ‘why?’ Again the fog does not lift, some are due to recent tragedies – as a form of coping, of releasing, others due to past traumas in the child’s early life…and some just because. At the point of harming most girls that I have spoken to don’t even know the reasons themselves. Teenage boys statistics are also increasing , I don’t personally feel that this is a bad thing. The figures come from teenagers seeking help, the girls and guys who are able to walk into their GP surgery or the doors of A and E, this means society is listening and let me tell you – listening is good.
I always feel privileged when a girl confides in me, and one thing that we often discuss is the dark room. For many (not all) suffering from anxiety or depression, the world sometimes feels like a dark enclosed room and it’s safe but also scary in the dark, but mostly it’s lonely. However, to reach for the light switch feels like a million miles away and utterly unachieveable. To switch the light on is a loss of the known (the dark) and a loss of control (seeking help may lead to others making decisions for you), for those in a state of self loathing the thought of disappointing loved ones is heart breaking and so they stay in the safety of the dark. It is this reason that teenagers often disclose in schools – pupils know that we have to tell their parents / carers due to child protection guidelines, this takes some of the initial weight off of themselves.
So, what can little old me and wise old you do?
Listen. Once you’ve finished listening, listen some more. I don’t mean the nod and sad face kind, I mean the active listening, taking it in and showing the person that the light switch can be reached with time, at their pace and with your support. Ironically, it has always been my experience that the ‘harming’ is irrelevant compared to the emotion behind it, opening the door to discussion allows for emotions to be re-balanced and at the point of turning on the light switch, the dark (self harming) stops.
Todays quote -‘you’re still a princess’comes from my love of Disney (regular readers of my blog will know that I’m slightly pumped by the positivity, magical nature and frankly the sparkle that Disney can give). So the other thing apart from listening is to remind them that you still care, they are still loved…if the Little Mermaid self harmed – she would still be a princess, if Arna from Frozen let it go’… She would still be a princess.
My advice and experience (for whats its worth) is simple…Listen and love.
If you would like more information, fact, figures and advice I have 2 ‘go to’ amazing websites, these are Self harm a UK project dedicated to supporting young people impacted by self harm and Mind which is the UKs leading charity for mental health.