Last week, I was alarmed but sadly not surprised, to read that a government-funded research project reported one in five teenage women practising self-harm. The findings, published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, show that self-harm has risen across both sexes since 2000 and has almost trebled in the population as a whole.
In a society with the ability to share more information than ever, we need to talk about self-harm, to understand what it means and to learn about the symptomatic behaviours which are too often leading our teenagers down this destructive path. Most importantly, we need to better help young people develop strategies for coping with emotional pain so that they don't turn to physical pain as an alternative.
We know that children and parents are spending increasing amounts of time online which is leading to a disconnected lifestyle. More than ever, the pressures of social media encourage young people to live vicariously through social influencers; to revel in the experiences of a celebrity or express themselves through the use of an 'emoji'. So while we are communicating, are we doing it in the right way?
We know that most people who experience mental health problems experience them first as a young person or adolescent. So the sooner we can help, the better all round, but prevention may not be necessary if earlier approaches can be adopted which help children recognise that feelings such as fear, low confidence and anxiety are normal features in everyday life. Time to talk to children helps; establishing a pattern of conversations together, even if it is about their online profile is better than no conversation at all. Watching TV together, helping with homework, choosing what to do in the holidays - any activity which promotes discussion helps. Practising mindfulness is also an activity which can support anyone, of any age.
Mindfulness is about living fully in the present moment, without judgement, and with curiosity. Teaching children to practice mindfulness can provide teens with a tool to stop habitual automatic reactions, which are often harmful to themselves and to others. It especially allows young people to take a break from their worries, to prevent them from becoming 'stressed'; to come back to the present moment and to re-discover inner strength and inner resilience. Engaging the subconscious, taking time, however short to revive can be so powerful and reminds children that they can manage themselves and feel good about who they are, and not who they think they should become.