An article was published yesterday on CBC News with the headline, “Canadian hospitals stretched as self-harming teens seek help“. 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.