How do I stop my child from self-harming?

Katie Lawson and Ezra Hewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind, at the HuddlUp event

Katie Lawson and Ezra Hewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind, at the HuddlUp event at Quay Place in Ipswich on self-harm. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

To discover that your child might be self-harming is one of the most heartbreaking and difficult things to deal with as a parent.

But now mums and dads have been given advice on how to support children at risk of self-harming - and discourage them from doing so.

The “HuddlUps” session - designed to give parents support on mental health issues affecting young people today - was held just a couple of days after a Healthwatch Suffolk report revealed the extent to which young people in the county are regrettably resorting to self-harm.

In the research, 14% of the 14,000 secondary school respondents said they had self-harmed or are currently self-harming.

The shocking findings led to calls for mental health to be given a greater priority at schools.

And although the HuddlUps event was organised before the research was published, news of the figures arguably made the event all the more important.

Katie Lawson, organiser of the HuddlUp, said: “Research shows that this consistently comes up as one of the top three issues for parents.

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“As a parent we are all too aware of the problems and know children and young people are struggling.

“I believe parents want to learn more and help their children to thrive.”

What is the main cause?

Speaking at the event at Ipswich’s Quay Place on Friday, March 1, Suffolk Mind head of education Ezra Hewing said focusing on “unmet emotional needs” was key to stopping self-harm.

“Self-harm is a way of responding to stress, which gives a person temporary relief,” he said.

“Stress or distress are nature’s way of telling us that key emotional needs are not being met in someone’s life.”

A booklet released as part of the sessions said stress could be caused by low self-esteem, loneliness, low confidence and a lack of control over their lives.

“Often the physical pain of self-harm might be easier to deal with than the emotional pain that’s behind it,” the booklet said.

Mr Hewing stressed the risk of self-harm is not only serious injury or even death, but that it becomes a “vicious cycle” - because people feel guilty about what they have done, exacerbating their feelings.

How do you deal with it?

Mr Hewing said parents must respond to their children self-harming with great care, as they can unwittingly worsen the problem - even if trying to do the right thing.

“It is important for parents who are naturally concerned to understand that if they react in a fearful or judgemental way, that can drive up stress levels again and trigger a return to self-harm,” he said.

“We need to address unmet emotional needs. If we can address those, we can reduce the likelihood of self-harm occurring.”

In his talk, Mr Hewing added: “You have to be really mindful of where you pitch your interventions.”

He also stressed that self-harm can encompass a range of behaviours including eating, drinking and exercising too much - not just inflicting injuries on oneself.

Suffolk Mind’s advice on dealing with self-harm includes not bombarding children with questions and keeping an eye on them without being seen to ‘police’ them.

Where can you go for support?

Suffolk Mind also encourages people to seek professional help from a GP to explore whether their children can be referred to mental health services for extra support.

Those with concerns can call Childline on 0800 1111 for advice, as well as visit this website.

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