We Need To Learn To Cope

An article was published yesterday on CBC News with the headline, “Canadian hospitals stretched as self-harming teens seek help“. Emergency rooms across the country are producing alarming statistics on teens being hospitalized for self-inflicted wounds and suicidal thoughts. As someone who has been self harming for a little over 11 years I was interested to learn what the new statistics were saying about teens who self harm.

I was fairly disappointed in the article. I feel that the article is downplaying the seriousness of self harm.

“”A lot of kids don’t really meet the criteria for these disorders,” [Dr. Kathleen Pajer] said. “Instead, they seem to be suffering an existential crisis that is sort of, ‘I’m empty, I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t have any grounding and I don’t know how to manage my negative feelings.”‘

“They don’t actually experience a lot of adverse events in their lives,” he said of those who enjoy increasingly affluent upbringings with supportive parents. When something does go wrong — like a breakup, a death or poor grades — many young people are completely thrown, [Dr. Hazen] Gandy said.”They kind of go from pretty average, functioning kids to suddenly they can’t cope. They can’t manage. They’re depressed. They’re presenting to emergency departments, hopeless.””

“”It has become almost a fad to cut now,” St. John said. “And many of the young people that I see that cut do it to belong to a group or to stay within a group. They post it on Facebook.””

When I read these quotes I hear people from my past mocking me. I hear people telling me to get over it, that I have no reason to self harm. Reading these quotes reminds me of the doctors who turned me away because they thought I was just “being a teenager”. I have always thought it to be just as problematic for someone to self harm for “attention” or to “fit in” because something must be wrong inside for them to think that hurting their body will solve a problem.

This article does touch on an issue that I think is EXTREMELY important, one that I see in the children/youth I work with and I saw it in myself. Young people do not know how to cope with negative emotions. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble but coping is something that needs to be TAUGHT. No one, and I mean no one, develops positive coping without being taught.

Coping is a learned behaviour that adults seem to be skipping when it comes to educating their child/children. I feel we put so much emphasis on academics or athletics that we’re neglecting children’s emotional development which will help them succeed in life and as a matter of fact will help them succeed in the academics and athletics. Having worked with toddlers and preschoolers it is very obvious that screaming, crying and hitting/pushing are automatic responses. It is the role of the adult to kindly step in and model how using language and asking for help is the more effective way of expressing and coping with negative emotions.

What we end up with when positive coping isn’t taught is a bunch of teens who feel everything is a crisis and can find no way out except through self harm. This is a major problem.

The answer is fairly simple and the article touches on it: teach positive coping. Some adults may have to learn how to do that first before they can teach it but it’s never too late to learn how to better cope with stress.



12 thoughts on “We Need To Learn To Cope

  1. I agree. Biggest part of my issue as an adult is lack of coping skills, I was never taught as a child how to cope with my emotions, so they overwhelm me to a point I collapse emotionally.

    I am trying to teach myself how to cope better, and I have gotten better, but not yet to a point where I can cope with everything,and jobs and such are still hard to keep, I am managing longer but still not working out once the stress hits me,

    But yes, I find parents are for whatever reason not teaching coping, and I wonder if maybe the current generation of parents themselves may not be aware of it, and may not even have much coping skills themselves, we seem to have had a generation (mine included) who are now having kids, but they themselves as parents lack some of the knowledge and skills and well are not passing them onto their children.

    My sisters kids lack coping skills in many respects, and I wonder if she just isn’t aware she doesn’t have good coping skills, and has just not passed them on. I am much more aware of my mental and emotional well being then she is, I am not in denial I have issues and very much aware, but she is the opposite of me.

    I know if I have kids ever, I am atleast aware of the fact I need to do everything possible to teach them proper coping skills, so they can cope and lead successful lives.

    • It all comes with understanding how we function. Learning about child development has been a massive help for me. Not only am I better able to support the children I work with but I am able to support myself.

      As I’m sure you’re seeing it’s a cycle that needs to consciously be broken.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Great post Christine!

      I agree with you! I have seen in some of the youth I work with how their life crumbles when they don’t understand something or when I have told a child that they cannot do an activity they look as if I told them someone they loved has died. It’s a great disservice to not give children the tools they need to be successful adults.

      It’s especially important for teachers to have time to support their students since they spend the most time with them. As you pointed out though, paperwork and other things deemed more important get in the way.

      Thanks for writing and sharing your post!

      • Not so much the teens–that’s who I felt the article was dismissive of. Just for an example, the teen who cuts because s/he got a bad grade? It may sound like a trivial problem, but maybe that teen lives in a household with tremendous pressure to get good grades, and repercussion if they don’t. Or maybe it’s a subject they’re genuinely having trouble with and is stressful. But the article doesn’t give any kind of information to suggest that cutting may be a symptom of a larger problem. They just try to paint it as an overreaction to what in most cases would be a minor problem.

      • Context, the context is missing. You’re right. We don’t know what a low grade could mean to this teen. The article actually says that none of these youth fit a psychiatric diagnosis but from my experience at least I know that doctors can be very dismissive due to age.

  2. I wish someone would have taught me positive coping strategies before I was well out of high school and even college. There’s a huge gap there, for sure, where that learning should be. And that article ticked me off…cutting as an existential crisis? Really? Great article (by you).

    • I have found it unfortunate that my coping became so destructive that I was given the opportunity to learn coping that many will never learn. Everyone needs to learn what I have learned in therapy (ie: distress tolerance).

      Thank you for commenting! It was great to hear from you!

  3. I also felt the piece was dismissive and short sighted, not a surprise really. However it did serve to motivate me out of my funk. I was aware that there was a large increase, but the article made it more real somehow.

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what such a strategy would look like and how to put it in place – at home, at school, in general. What are we actually doing differently than before? What do parents need to know?

    My daughter’s councillors, myself, her school, we’ve all been working and teaching positive coping strategies (I’d like to think I’ve always done this at home) but truthfully I don’t feel like we’ve managed to help her embrace any with success. Nothing has “clicked”. I guess that’s where I’m struggling. We keep trying and practising but when it really counts, it’s the old negative habits that kick right back in.

    • What has worked for me was knowing that until I was ready self harm was still an option for coping but to be more of last resort. I used harm reduction so I made sure everything was clean and disinfected so I limited the risk of infection. Learning to care for myself was helpful.

      What strategies have your daughter tried?

      The important part is having a variety because not everything will work or will work at that moment. I have in the moment strategies that are physical (throwing a sock ball at the wall), visual (drawing on myself with red pen), relaxing (deep breathing) and preventative strategies such as reading, writing, meditation and I attempting to get into exercise. Slips will happen but it’s being able to come out of those slips without shame and being supported.

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