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‘It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life’
Social media is helping fuel a nation of “deeply unhappy” children, a charity has warned, as it published new figures showing a rise in self-harm.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found 18,778 children aged 11 to 18 were admitted to hospital for self-harm in 2015/16.
This is up on the 16,416 in 2013/14 and represents a 14% rise, the data for England and Wales shows.
Teenagers aged 13 to 17 were the most likely to end up in hospital for self-harm, including things such as cutting, overdosing on pills or burning themselves.
Figures from the Childline helpline run by the NSPCC also showed it delivered 18,471 counselling sessions about self-harm last year – equivalent to 50 a day.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “A frightening number of children and teenagers are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with unresolved feelings, tensions and distress in their lives.
“Knowing hospital beds are full of young people crying out for help should be a real wake-up call to all those that care for the wellbeing of the younger generation.
“It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life, to such an extent they are inflicting terrible damage upon themselves.
“It is clear from the thousands of calls Childline receives that we have a nation of deeply unhappy children.
“They tell us that the need to keep up with friends and the 24/7 nature of technology means they feel they can never escape or switch off, adding to the misery that many feel on a daily basis.
“Childline is often the only place that many young people feel they can turn to when no-one else is listening.”
Childline president, Dame Esther Rantzen, said: “It is deeply disturbing that so many children and young people are ending up in hospital because they are injuring themselves so seriously.
“Self-harming is at epidemic level among young people – at Childline we hear from them every day.
“It has become one of the most common problems young people bring to us, and I know from our counsellors that these are some of the most painful stories we hear.
“Often the young people feel too ashamed and fearful to seek help from those around them, until they harm themselves so badly they have to be rushed to hospital.”
One 14-year-old boy who contacted Childline said: “Sometimes I get flashbacks from what happened when I was younger and I cope with the horrible memories by cutting myself – it helps me release the pain from within.
“School helped take my mind off things but now that the holidays are here I’m struggling.
“I feel so miserable and lonely – can you please help?”
Dr Max Davie, assistant officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “Early intervention is essential if we are to reduce the number of children self-harming and needing specialist mental health or emergency services.
“One way of providing this early intervention is for all schools to deliver comprehensive Personal Social Health Economic (PSHE) education, teaching children about emotional wellbeing and addressing challenging mental health issues such as eating disorders, self-harm and suicide in addition to other important topics like positive relationships, sex education and the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse.”
Dr Virginia Davies, chairwoman of the child and family public engagement board at The Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The NSPCC’s report highlights the real-life impact of underfunded mental health services for children and young people.
“Our own research shows that over half of England’s clinical commissioning groups are allocating under 5% of their mental health budget to this age group.
“We also know that up to four in five children with mental health problems are being denied access to treatment they urgently need in some parts of England, despite the evidence that early intervention can prevent a multitude of problems later in life.
“Now more than ever we need more doctors to train as psychiatrists if we are ever to meet the increase in demand for these services.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We want children with mental health problems to get the help they need.
“That’s why we are investing £1.4 billion to help every area in the country transform services for young people with all mental health conditions, including self-harm.
“We are also strengthening the links between schools and mental health services, and looking at how to improve services for self-harm in the reinvigorated suicide prevention strategy, to be published soon.”
There were 1748 deaths by suicide in 2013 among teens aged 15 to 19 years old, and this number might actually be higher, as “some of these deaths may have been recorded as accidental.” With a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) showing that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents. With social media becoming a daily ritual for most teenagers, the question of whether social media is to blame for the rise of suicide deaths is now being debated more than ever.
“Suicide risk can only be reduced, not eliminated,” writes AAP lead author, Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, but if social media is to blame for this higher rate, then should teens be pulled out of this social craze?
The AAP lists a number of risk factors that lead to suicide attempts. These include “a family history of suicide, a history of physical or sexual abuse, mood disorders, drug and alcohol use, and lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning sexual orientation or transgender identification. An important additional risk factor for suicide is bullying.”
Most of these factors are not determined by social media, except bullying. Social media has made it easier for us all to bully others. In fact, reports show that 43% of teens have reported being bullied online, compared to 19.6% of those at school. With teen suicide rates being higher, the correlation between these deaths and social media may not be so far off.
“Bullying has always been a major issue for adolescents, but there is now greater recognition of the connection between bullying and suicide,” Shain explains. Although cyberbullying happens online, it is nevertheless, “as serious” as face-to-face bullying. In fact, results from a survey given to approximately 2000 middle school children, “indicated that victims of cyberbullying were almost 2 times as likely to attempt suicide than those who were not.”
As parents, ensuring that our teens are not being cyberbullied is an essential form of prevention. This is especially important when statistics show that 81% of teens have admitted that it is easier to bully people online and only 1 in 10 admitted to telling an adult when they are being bullied.
Cyberbullying cannot be recognized as the only factor that causes suicide attempts in adolescents, however, “it can increase risk of suicide by amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors.”
Cyberbullying is a major issue in itself but there are other factors that have come with social media that may lead to more teens attempting suicide.
Although suicide pacts (when 2 or more people agree to commit suicide at a specific time) have been around before social media, cybersuicide has risen with the digital age and strangers can now agree to attempt suicide together.
Mediums such as online chat rooms, virtual bulletin boards, forums and mainstream social media have provided “an unmediated avenue to share one’s feelings with other like-minded individuals, which can be easier than talking about such thoughts and feelings in person.”
More than encouraging cybersuicide, “social media platforms such as chat rooms and discussion forums may also pose a risk for vulnerable groups by influencing decisions to die by suicide.” Vulnerable teens who are thinking about suicide could find themselves being pressured in these forums, when other users start to “idolize those who have completed suicide.”
Other risk factors to look out for are pro-suicide videos shared on social media and published on pro-suicide websites because they show teens the different methods they can use to end their life. Teens lured by the idea of suicide can watch these videos and find ways they might not have thought of before, to attempt to end their life.
The media coverage on suicides, as well as suicide stories that would have gone viral on social media, such as the French woman who live-streamed her suicide on Periscope, can also make teens want to attempt suicide. Seeing such stories or suicide notes go viral could lead to copycat suicides by those who would have been thinking about it for a while.
The number of risk factors that have come with social media are significant and paired with research, there is no denying that social media can be damaging, especially to those who go in search of content that is harmful. Nonetheless, with the bad comes the good and what has not been mentioned here are the official support groups that help teens who are considering suicide, panic buttons for those going through cyberbullying and the endless forums and websites that are anti-suicide.
Besides these official groups, teens who are considering suicide may also find a support group online made up of complete strangers, whom they can open up to in ways they are not comfortable doing in real life. People who can be of support through this difficult phase in their life to help them out of this dark time.
Parents, talk to your children. Start open and honest conversations about what’s going on in their lives–both in the real world and online.
Source: Teen Safe