Through human instinct, we spend our lives trying to avoid the harms of everyday life, but for some, they have an overwhelming instinct to hurt themselves.
And new figures show it’s a nationwide problem on the rise among the most vulnerable in society – our children.
Research has found visits for child self-harm to Nottingham’s hospitals totalled 55 in 1997. In 2017 there were 330.
The Nottingham figures are part of an NHS England report spanning 20 years, showing the number of admissions in England rose from 7,327 to 13,463.
The data compiled addressed two categories – self-harm and self-poison – the former being harm inflicted on the body and the latter something harmful ingested.
In most cases, it revealed female and male Nottingham children were more likely to self-poison rather than self-harm, however, showed females were five times more at risk in general.
In a statement, Harmless – a Notts-based self-harm charity – said self-harm has affected young people for a long time in Nottingham and on a much larger scale.
A spokesperson said: “The reported increase might demonstrate that we are better able to identify, talk about, and accurately record self-harm, but also reminds us that huge numbers of young people are in emotional distress and not able to cope.
“Think about school, exams, bullying, pressure, puberty, ‘insta-glam’ culture, working out who you are and what your identity is. Being young can be incredibly hard.”
They added that Harmless knows self-harm doesn’t discriminate and impacts those from all walks of life and offers free support to anyone affected to create “a safe space free of stigma, discrimination and judgement”.
It comes after the tragic death of teenager Molly Russell, who took her own life a few days before her 15th birthday in 2017 after viewing explicit self-harm material on Instagram.
Her father maintains the harmful content “helped kill her” and said there should be no such content on Instagram or social media sites.
But despite Instagram vowing to remove all self-harm material following her death, Sky News found a month later the content still existed and was easy to find.
Anyone can be at risk of self-harm but sometimes people start to take control of emotions or get immediate relief from traumatic experiences, however, some studies reveal a possible link between frequent exposure to social media and self-harm.
Research by academics published in the Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking journal in 2015 revealed that over a 12-month period, 5.5 per cent of children who reported “low” social media use had “seriously considered” suicide, figures which leapt to 24.9 per cent when the child’s usage was two hours or longer.
Speaking of her experience with self-harm is Katie, a Nottingham student who has struggled with thoughts about her weight and self-harm since the age of 10.
Although she doesn’t think social media is directly responsible for the rise in child self-harm, she said it has contributed to her “hating” the way she looks.
Katie said: “I get intrusive thoughts occasionally that won’t go away until they have been acted upon. It’s like my form of ‘punishment’ which can become really difficult to resist.”
The now 22-year-old explained it is not something she wants or has ever wanted to do but that even after receiving help, the behaviours are still difficult to control.
“Whilst I have never pointed the finger directly at social media, I do recognise that a lot of my self-harm was caused by the fact I hate the way my body looks – as our perceptions of the perfect body are heavily impacted by what we see.
“I would find myself asking friends repeatedly if my outfit looks okay or if it made me look fat, and sometimes I got to the point where I would refuse to go out.”
Katie added: “I would feel disgusting in comparison to everyone else.”
Self-harm is described by Harmless as when someone deliberately hurts themselves as a way of coping with mental health struggles.
- Cutting, scratching, burning or bruising yourself
- Taking overdoses of tablets or medication
- Inserting objects into the body
- Hair pulling (known as trichotillomania)
Mum of two Charlotte Cordall has battled trichotillomania for nearly 20 years and thinks the rise in Nottingham child-self harm is due to a lack of education, awareness and funding.
The 27-year-old explained the hostile home environment was a contributing factor to her condition when she was younger, rather than exposure to social media.
Trichotillomania – also known as trich – is a condition that gives someone the intense urge to pull out their hair, eyebrows and/or eyelashes as a coping mechanism which provides a sense of relief.
Charlotte said: “My mum used to get cross with me when I was younger, and my dad pretended it wasn’t happening. The hardest was at school, more so at secondary, because when my hair became more and more difficult to cover – it started to look like a mullet and people would call me a boy.
“But I just couldn’t stop pulling. There was a sense of relief like scratching an itch… I also used to pick scabs to make them bleed,” she added.
The civil servant mum said a lot needs to be done in breaking down barriers and stigma surrounding self-harm, with focus on awareness in general practice and more child welfare funding so kids have the best chance of recovery.
Responding to findings of self-harm images on their platform, an Instagram spokesperson said nothing is more important than keeping users safe, adding they have never allowed content that promotes suicide or self-injury and ensures to remove all content as soon as they are aware of it.
They said: “As a result of the ongoing expert review into our approach to all self-injury content we no longer allow any graphic images of self-harm, such as cutting, and are making it harder for people to discover non-graphic, self-harm related content.”
The harmful content has since been removed.
Nottingham City Council’s portfolio holder for children and young people, councillor Cheryl Barnard, declined to make a statement on the rise in figures.
Nottingham University NHS Hospitals also refused to comment.
If you have been affected by these issues, please contact Harmless, or if you need immediate help, please call Samaritans on 0115 941 1111.