Adolescence is known as a time fraught with emotion, but the current generation of teenagers has a new and different set of challenges to contend with – and these are having a huge impact on their mental health.
Now, a new report on rates of self-harm among teens suggests a worrying proportion are hurting themselves to cope with their struggles. Nearly one in four (22%) 14-year-old girls said they had self-harmed in the last year, double the proportion of teenage boys (9%) who said the same, found "The Good Childhood Report 2018" by The Children's Society, which cites figures from a survey of 11,000 children.
The findings come just less than a month after the NHS released data showing that the number of girls under 18 being treated in English hospitals for self-harm has almost doubled compared with 20 years ago.
The mental health charity Mind defines self-harm as "hurt[ing] yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences," and it can involve anything including cutting, poisoning, burning, biting, over- or under-eating and more.
Young people attracted to people of the same gender were the most likely to hurt themselves, with nearly half (46%) claiming to have done so, The Children's Society said, with those from lower-income households also at greater risk.
Traditional gender stereotypes and worries about looks are among the biggest factors contributing to the trend, The Children's Society said. Children whose friendship groups value "girls having nice clothes and boys being tough" reported lower wellbeing.
Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive, The Children's Society
"Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness," said chief executive Matthew Reed.
One young woman with experience of self-harming as a teenager is Loveday Quarry, 19, a student now in her second year of university, who first hurt herself aged 12 through cutting. As her mental health worsened during her teenage years she began scratching and restricting her food intake. "I self-harmed on and off for about four years and then between the ages of 16-18 it was a pretty regular thing. Since going to university I’ve only had a few relapses in self-harm," she told Refinery29.
"I began self-harming because I just wasn’t happy in myself. Now, the triggers are often arguments or me having made a mistake. My appearance and weight are also massive triggers, still. I'd do it whenever I felt anxious or like I wasn’t good enough, which for a long time was a lot of the time."
*warning this is serious* the semi colon project was something which changed my perspective on life in 2013, i had never thought of it in that way and struggled to see a way to keep going at times. every time my mental illness got the better of me, i reminded myself of the semi colon project, and i told myself that on my 18th birthday i would get this tattoo so that i could always be reminded that, as founder @amybleuel said, a semi colon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but didn't - the author is you, and the sentence is your life. sadly amy lost her battle with mental health on 23rd March, but she has won so many battles for other people since April 2013 and, for that, we are so grateful x
While she is not fully recovered, she believes it has been helpful realising that all feelings are temporary. "The biggest thing that has helped me deal with the issue is that I’ve learned nobody can be happy constantly. Happiness is a fluctuating state and sometimes it’s normal to be unhappy in certain situations, so I remind myself that I don’t need punishing when it’s a normal emotional response."
Broader public understanding of the issue is far from perfect or even accurate, so Quarry tries to raise awareness as much as possible. "The most common misunderstanding is that self-harming is a cry for attention. I’m never ashamed of my scars or even fresh self-harm. I don’t do it for other people to notice and comment on, it still comes as a form of punishment and I don’t feel like I need 'help' after I’ve punished myself."
Quarry recently got a tattoo of a semicolon beside one of her self-harm scars on her wrist in homage to Project Semicolon, a US organisation dedicated to mental health and the prevention of suicide. She explained why: "I love the metaphor. An author uses a semicolon when they could have ended the sentence but chose not to, and we are each the authors of our own lives, so for me the semicolon represents the memory of the choice I made to keep the sentence – my life – going instead of ending it."
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.