Mum Vicky is worried about her 15-year-old daughter harming herself. How does she deal with this? Do you have any advice for this week’s A Problem Shared…?
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I’m really worried about my 15-year-old daughter. I’ve recently found out that she’s started cutting herself. She’s always down and hates going to school but she won’t talk to me. I’ve tried to sit down with her to talk calmly, I’ve tried getting angry, I’ve tried to show her how scared I am that she’s hurting herself, but nothing works. She just won’t open up to me.
Finding out that she is hurting herself has scared me so much, I’m so worried that this is a first step to something and I’m just terrified that she’s going to take it too far. I can’t watch her 24 hours a day, even though that is what I feel like doing at the moment, and she’s getting angrier and angrier with me constantly questioning and watching her.
I feel so helpless that there is nothing that I can do about this and I want some advice please about what I can do to help her and stop her hurting herself before it’s too late.
Our FamilyPoint Advice to Vicky
Hi Vicky, thanks for getting in touch with FamilyPoint. We have collected some information and advice below that will hopefully help you understand and deal with your daughter’s self-harming.
It is understandable that you feel upset after discovering your daughter has started self-harming by cutting herself. It is difficult as a parent to see your child hurting in any circumstance, but even more so when you don’t know the issues or how to help. Self-harming behaviour is more common than you might expect. It is difficult to put a precise number on just how many people self-harm because they are often secretive about it. According to research reported by Young Minds between 1 in 12 and 1 in 15 people have self-harmed.
The good news is that because it is a common issue, there is lots of information, advice and support for those who harm themselves and for their parents or carers.
Organisations that can help
YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. They have a great website which covers self-harm in detail including sections for young people and parents. They also have an advice line for parents. The calls are free and trained staff will listen to your concerns with sensitivity and without judgement. They are able to provide you with tailored advice and support. You might find it helpful to call them on 0808 802 5544. Parentline is available Monday-Friday between 9.30am and 4pm.
Another useful resource has been produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They explain that young people use self-harm as a way to cope with strong emotions they are finding difficult to deal with. Reflecting on their research, they detail some of the reasons young people might self-harm including:
- Not knowing how to manage an emotion or situation, self-harm helps them feel like they are in control.
- A way to “punish” themselves when experiencing an overwhelming feeling of guilt or shame
- A method of expressing or releasing the pressure of intense anger or tension.
- A coping mechanism for dealing with their feelings after an extremely distressing event or personal trauma.
- Self-harm is sometimes an indication that a person is feeling suicidal and doesn’t know where to access help and support.
A risk with self-harming is that sometimes people can accidently go too far. Cuts and burns can go too deep or cause very nasty infections. Have a look at these ideas for alternatives to cutting suggested by The Mix – a charity to help under 25s navigate any of life’s challenges.
Try writing a letter instead
In your email you mentioned that talking with your daughter about self-harm is causing tension between you. I am wondering if you could write a letter to her, instead of trying to talk directly to her?
I would suggest stating that you love her and are able to listen to and support her when she is ready. You could tell her that you know it is difficult for her to talk about cutting herself and that she might like to respond by letter if it feels easier. Tell her about your understanding of why people self-harm and ask her if any of the reasons apply to her? You could provide her with a list of helpful resources and contact details for helplines too.
Writing a letter helps you carefully think about what you want to say, rather than reacting in an emotional exchange. All of the advice I have read says that parents need to stay calm – easier said than done, I know.
If you are both finding it difficult to tackle this issue together, perhaps there is someone who you both trust that your daughter can talk to?
It may be that you discover that the self-harming was a one off and not a regular coping mechanism. If that is the case, you could monitor the situation without involving a GP or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS). If you discover that the problem is persistent you could insist she speaks to a professional about her self-harm. You can remind her that you love her and want to protect her from serious harm and as a parent you have to do the best for her.
Heads Above The Waves, who raise awareness of depression and self-harm in young people, wrote a series of blogs for FamilyPoint Cymru about how to react, how to talk to them, what not to say and how you can help:
- 4 Ways To Start Talking About Self-Harm
- Self-Harm: Unhelpful Ways To Talk about It
- Self-Harm: Helpful Reactions As A Parent
- Self-Harm As A Teenager: Simon’s Story
- How To Keep Supporting Someone Who Self-Harms
If your daughter would like to talk about this or another issue with someone, Meic is available between 8am and midnight every single day. Meic helpline advisers can be contacted for free via phone, web chat, email or text. Meic contact details can be found here. The advisers will be able to support you daughter to access the best support or help her identify solutions to her issues. Meic advisers can also support with advocacy.
If you want further help or information yourself then contact us on the FamilyPoint helpline on the details below.
If you would like further information on national or local support services, then you can contact us at FamilyPoint Cymru via phone 0300 222 57 57, text 07860 052 905, or IM/Chat. We are open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.
I hope this advice has been helpful, good luck with everything.
The FamilyPoint Cymru Team
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