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Nearly a quarter of 14 year old girls in this region self harm, survey reveals

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:36 29 August 2018

Abbie Foster, who has recovered from self harming.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Abbie Foster, who has recovered from self harming. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Nearly a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the east of England said they had self-harmed in just a year.

Sarah Barrett. PHOTO: Nick ButcherSarah Barrett. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

A new report from The Children’s Society found one in six (16pc) of more than 11,000 children surveyed reported self-harming at this age, including nearly one in 10 boys (9pc).

And in this region 22pc of 14-year-old girls said they had self-harmed.

The statistics follow new analysis included in the charity’s annual Good Childhood Report, which examines the state of children’s well-being in the UK. The report looks at the reasons behind the unhappiness which increases the risk of children self-harming.

Abbie Foster, 23, self-harmed for a number of years from her early teens.

It started with flicking a hairband against her wrist but then moved to more severe forms of harm.

Miss Foster, from Lower Clarence Road, Norwich, has now recovered and has not self-harmed for four years.

But she said she was not surprised by the figures in the report.

“It was just to get that bit of relief,” said Miss Foster, who was relentlessly bullied at school, causing depression.

“It was a form of control but it never took away that pain for long, but it becomes an addiction.”

Based on their figures, The Children’s Society estimates that across the east of England 7,280 girls and 3,130 boys aged 14 may have self-harmed during the same 12-month period.

Matthew Reed, chief executive at the charity, said: “It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming.

“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.”

The Children’s Society’s new Good Childhood survey of 10 to 17-year-old children and their parents across 2,000 households, which is also part of the report, found children were least happy with school and their appearance.

For Miss Foster, self-esteem was a big part of why she self-harmed. She said: “I always felt like I didn’t have big enough breasts or I used to look at the media and wonder why I didn’t have a thigh gap. I used to compare myself to these models in magazines, even though you can tell they’re photoshopped.”

Since recovering, she took part in a photoshoot which was unedited, she said to “show what a real body looks like, and to show it’s normal to have belly rolls when you sit down or have stretch marks”.

Miss Foster was also a victim of bullying.

“One boy told me I should kill myself and if I didn’t, he would do it for me,” she said. “I still think about what was said to me as a 12 year old now but I know the bullies won’t even remember it.”

At school nearly a quarter of those surveyed (24pc) said they heard jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all of the time, while more than a fifth (22pc) of those in secondary school said jokes or comments were often made about people’s sexual activity.

Both made girls feel much worse about their appearance and less happy with their life as a whole, but this pattern did not apply to boys.

The research also suggests both boys and girls can be harmed by gender stereotypes and pressure to live up to these expectations.

Mr Reed added: “It’s vital that children’s well-being is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health.

“Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s well-being and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.

“Issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality should be included in the new relationships and sex education curriculum.

“However, early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.”

Miss Foster has since set up a Facebook group to support others going through mental health issues, called Abbie Foster’s StayStrong.

And she said her advice to young people self harming was that it would get better, even if it did not seem like it.

She said: “I surrounded myself with positivity and kindness and looked for distractions. Once you do it once and get over that hurdle it becomes easier because you know you can do it again.”

Woman speaks out over lack of understanding surrounding the issue

Having lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after surviving childhood sexual abuse, Sarah Barrett, from Southwold, regrettably could only think of one way to cope.

Struggling to deal with what happened, she tried – unsuccessfully – to find solace in self-harm.

It didn’t work and is something she has regretted for the rest of her life, not least because it left her with terrible lasting injuries and put her life in danger.

But she has since bravely spoken out about it in the hope she can persuade others not to make the same choice.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about self-harm and why people do it,” she explained.

“If someone is in the early stages of self-harm, it is important to be aware of where this painful, addictive behaviour could take you.

“I self-harmed from the age of 10 but it got worse when I got to high school, because of the bullying.

“Then people found out about the self-harm, and I was bullied for that. It is a vicious circle.”

Advice for concerned parents

Tonia Mihill, therapeutic services manager for MAP, stressed that it is essential to remain calm and non- judgemental when supporting people who self-harm.

She said: “For parents or adults it can be extremely distressing. Here you have

this beautiful young person you consider to be precious and they’re hurting themselves. Listening is key. Express an availability and willingness to help in any way they need but recognise it’s important to allow them privacy too.

“Sometimes it’s easier to speak to someone outside the family and it’s important to remember this doesn’t make you bad parent.”

She added that rather than looking for signs of self-harm, we should be vigilant to a young person becoming overly withdrawn, upset or aggressive.

“Physical self-harm is often only the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “It’s essential to see not just the actual harm but the whole person.”

Celebrities call for positive messages

In recent years many celebrities have shared their personal experiences of self-harm to reassure young fans they are not alone.

Speaking in a 2014 interview, singer Demi Lovato lifted the lid on the body image issues fuelling her self-harm.

She said: “I’ve spent the past two years getting over an eating disorder and issues like self-harming and bipolar disorder. Unlike a person who doesn’t have these problems, I have to work on this stuff every day.”

Pitch perfect star Brittany Snow took to Twitter to rally against those making jokes about the issue.

Despite a successful acting career, in her teenage years she began a nine-year battle with self-harm and body-dysmorphia.

In a 2013 tweet she said: “Self-harm is not a joke, it’s not funny and it shouldn’t be made fun of. Instead of putting people down, send a positive message.”

• Need to talk? Call Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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