How to support a child who’s self-harming

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It can be incredibly tough to see your child going through self-harm. From a mother who has experienced it herself, we share steps for supporting them on their journey

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Content warning: This article includes frank discussion of the details of self-harm

How to support a child who’s self-harming

When my child was 10, I discovered they were self-harming. I want to give other parents a list of things that have helped me and my child in the terrifying journey that self-harm can be. This is that list:

1. Listen

As Carrie McColl, a counsellor specialising in self-harm explains, listening is the most important thing to do. “Your child may not always have the words to express what they’re feeling, but tone of voice, body language, and behaviour can speak volumes,” she says.

It can be a tough conversation to have, but a needed one. “If your child has disclosed the self-harm to you, thank them for being so brave and honest,” Carrie continues. “If it’s been discovered in a different way, try to gently approach the subject in terms of making sure wounds are clean, and seeing if medical attention may be needed.”

2. Choose how you want to deal with the self-harming and the wounds

It’s a hard thing to say to a parent who has just discovered something so heartbreaking, but it is up to you to choose how you want to deal with the self-harming of your child. From removing sharp objects to cleaning wounds, there are many ways that can help you feel more in control.

As Carrie says, “Self-harm is much more than just cutting, and if someone wants to hurt themselves, they will quite often find a way.” There is no better way to deal with it than another, only a difficult choice to make to ensure your child feels safe.

3. Find an alternative

Depending on why your child self-harms, and their age, there are lots of different coping mechanisms that can be tried: elastic bands, red pen, butterfly drawings (check out the Butterfly Project, butterfly-project.tumblr.com).

Carrie says: “Distraction can be useful, as it helps to learn that the urge to self-harm will pass. If your child can agree to it, ask that they let you know when they have the urge, and then work together on ways to distract them until the feeling passes. Most of the time, if distractions are working, the urge will have gone.”

4. Don’t define them with self-harming

Tell the school, your friends, your family. Self-harming should not be taboo, but you don’t want it to become their only identity. Continue defining them with the activities they love, and show them that self-harming doesn’t change the way you see them.

“Try not to dismiss what they’ve done, or mini

A quarter of locked-down children may have poor mental health

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A recent study revealed that a quarter of children and young people who have lived through Covid lockdowns are likely to have poor mental health. We look into this further and share free and useful resources

A quarter of locked-down children may have poor mental health

A recent NHS Digital report follows insights from 2017 and looks at how the pandemic has affected the mental health of seven to 24-year-olds, considering household circumstances, educational experiences and their communities.

The worrying findings reveal that one in four 17-19-year-olds have a 'probable' mental health problem. The survey classifies how likely it would be that the child had a diagnosable condition (without seeing a professional). The results for the younger population (seven to 16) aren’t much better, with 18% saying they’d be likely to have poor mental health. To put this into context, that’s around five children in every classroom.

Prior to the pandemic, one in 10 people aged 17-19 were thought to have a mental health problem, so why has the pandemic hit young people so hard?

Particularly for those transitioning into their early adult years, the numerous lockdowns brought on by the pandemic have had a knock-on effect. Not only have the school closures resulted in many children being set back in their education, but it’s also impacted their social lives and mental wellbeing as people were forced apart, leading to isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Perhaps more worryingly, the figures also suggest that almost 20% of primary school-aged boys (seven to 10) were classed as having a probable mental health problem, compared to 10.5% of girls the same age. When asked what mental health problems these children were likely to have, the results indicated an increase in anxiety, depression, and behavioural challenges such as ADHD.

With the rising use of technology during Covid, more and more people have taken to social media. NHS Digital found that, of the social media users surveyed, young women were almost twice as likely to report being a victim of bullying than men. For social media users thought to have a mental health problem, the number who felt they had been bullied increased to more than one in four.


How can we help children transition to a post-pandemic world?

Whilst the pandemic has brought families closer together, children of all ages have missed out on other vital parts of their lives, whether that’s interacting with their peers in the classroom or navigating the start of adulthood at university.

Getting support

For many, the isolation experienced during lockdowns may make being back in the school environment harder to adjust to. Whilst some children might be confident in the playground, others may need a little longer to get back in the swing of things. Social and separation anxiety are likely to take effect, so it’s important that we’re on hand to offer our children as much support as possible.

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If you’re worried about your child in school, it’s important to have a conversation about what ca

Discover how to be a mental health advocate and learn about your rights

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For yourself, and for your loved ones, make sure you’re in the know when it comes to mental health rights

Discover how to be a mental health advocate and learn about your rights

Getting help for mental health problems can be daunting, but knowing what rights we are all entitled to lays a good foundation from which to take those first steps forwards.

There is some variation to the specifics in different countries in the UK, so it’s always a good idea to seek advice for your particular case – but, here, we’ve created a quick, simple guide to mental health rights, so you can become an advocate for yourself and for the people around you.

At work

All employers have a duty of care for their staff, which means that they must do all that is reasonably possible to support staff’s health, safety, and wellbeing. Legally, there’s no difference between a sick day taken for mental or physical health, and you can take ‘mental health days’ when you need them – you’ll just have to follow your company’s usual process for taking the day off sick.

Beyond that, a mental health problem may be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the individual’s life, is expected to last at least 12 months, or affects their ability to do day-to-day activities. If this is the case, the employer must not discriminate against the employee because of their disability, and they must also make ‘reasonable adjustments’. These adjustments might include flexible hours to allow for appointments with GPs and mental health professionals, support withworking practices and workload, and training.

For more information, visit acas.org.uk. Additionally, joining a union means you have someone in your corner, who can advise you on your specific case as and when needed – to find a union for you, visit tuc.org.uk/joinunion

Under-18s

Children and young people under the age of 18 have many of the same rights as adults, although there are some differences to be aware of.

While a young person is in education, if they have a disability or school is difficult because of their mental health, they have the right to access extra support, which might include things like: a safe, quiet place to go at lunch or in between lessons; extra help from a member of staff; and extra time on exams.

Under-18s also have the right to be involved in decisions made about them, such as the kind of treatment and support they will get, who should be involved, and the kind of support that they will get from schools.

Lawstuff.org.uk offers free legal information to children and young people in England, and childline.org.uk can also provide general information about rights.

With your GP

When you go to see your GP about your mental health, you have all the same rights to patient confidentiality that you would do during an appointment about your physical health.

With some exceptions (such as, for example, when you need emergency treatment, have been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, or are a serving member of the armed forces), you have the legal right to choose which mental health provider you go to in England.

The NHS must also respect your human rights, and you can find out more about mental health and human right

Catch the wellbeing benefits of the outdoors with fishing therapy

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It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re reeling off therapeutic activities, but fishing is making a splash in the wellness space. Here, we meet the people and organisations that have discovered something very special lurking just below the waterline

Catch the wellbeing benefits of the outdoors with fishing therapy

No, this isn’t clickbait: fishing really can improve your mental health, according to patients and experts, and last year it was officially employed by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust as a way to combat depression and anxiety.

When I first heard about the benefits of fishing to mental health in 2017, I decided to try it for myself. I took my first trip fly fishing just outside Edinburgh on a drizzly November day. I went with community psychiatric nurse Mike Wynne, and his friend and patient, Brian, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia – just like me at the time. It was so relaxing being outside, even on a damp November day in Scotland. I became a convert, but no expert angler, and had to eagerly wait for my next invitation to go again.

So, I was exceptionally lucky when a few years later, in 2019, I met Paul, my boyfriend, and he invited me to go carp fishing in Staffordshire, where we both live. This time, we went in the summer, and with the sun shimmering over the misty pool, I had a very pleasant and equally relaxing time. I even caught a carp and some small tench this time. Fishing reminds me of meditation, but more exhilarating – a catch is exciting, and the surroundings of the lake and countryside both idyllic and peaceful.

According to scientist Thomas Warre, in a paper published by Get Hooked On Fishing and supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the benefits of angling can make a unique contribution to a person’s wellbeing, involving therapeutic engagement with nature and green-blue spaces, and having a positive effect on a person’s subjective happiness, satisfaction, relaxation levels, and overall emotional wellbeing.

One early adopter of fishing as a therapy is Growthpoint Project Coordinator, Geoff Yardley, who was utilising the practise as early as 2014 on the NHS in North Staffordshire. He tells me: “Fishing therapy is great as it takes place in the fresh air, usually in a beautiful, inspiring location. It’s super relaxing, and can be both a solitary and a social activity – allowing space to think, and time to socialise. Having a common interest can lead to facinating conversations with fellow fishermen, and raises an interest in patients in nature, and the great outdoors. It’s cheap to start up, and inexpensive to attend a pool or the sea, and also provides opportunities to see new places. You could join a club with others who share the same interests. I love it, and so do my patients who come along!”

Catch the wellbeing benefits of the outdoors with fishing therapy

Mike, the community psychiatric nurse from my first trip, agrees: “Having fished since I was around 10 years old, I have always found it to somehow transport me to a tranquil place where my senses are solely focused on the water, whether on a river, reservoir, or at sea. I’m sure it’s the attraction and sound of the

7 things to do each day to benefit your mental wellbeing

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We're sharing seven tips you can incorporate into your daily routine to help maintain mental wellness

7 things to do each day to benefit your mental wellbeing

Looking after our mental wellbeing goes a long way to leading a fulfilled life, tuning into our minds and bodies, and supporting our physical health. But maintaining good mental wellness can be a challenge in the hustle and bustle of daily life and we are all susceptible to pushing it to one side if we aren’t consciously checking in with ourselves. Fortunately, there are several things we can do to maintain mental wellness as part of our daily routines.

1. Start the day right

Getting out of bed can be difficult, particularly during the darker winter mornings or if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep the night before. But getting up and making your bed is a great way to set your day off on the right foot. Having a tidy bedroom brings a wealth of benefits to our mental wellbeing, such as resetting focus, increasing productivity, reducing stress and improving our mood. Although it might only seem like a small accomplishment, making the bed is a little win that will likely see you completing another task, and another...

2. Avoid checking emails first thing

Since the pandemic, far more of us are working from home and, whilst this brings many benefits, it can be easy to fall into the trap of checking your workload before your day has even started. Anxiety can be heightened first thing in the morning with the unknown of what the day might bring, so ensuring you're up, washed, dressed, and ready for the day before logging on will prevent you from encountering a potential stressor before your working day begins.

3. Excercise

Exercising doesn't have to feel like a chore. Not only is it a great way to reap the benefits of the outdoors and being in nature, but it can also help you to clear your mind and recharge. Whatever time of day you decide to do it - on your morning commute, your lunch break, or after your working day is done - try and do around 30 minutes of exercise a day. Exercising releases feel-good hormones and helps you feel energised, so you can do more of the things you enjoy.

4. Take a lunch break

This tip might seem obvious, but with 56% of workers not taking their full lunch break, we thought it was worth a mention. As the way we work becomes more flexible, it can be easy to lose track of time and stay sitting at our desks. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, try and stand up, move about and get some fresh air. Most importantly, make sure you’re fueling your body with the nutrients it needs to carry on with your day. It doesn't just have to be whilst you’re working either; ensuring you’re making time to take a break even on your days off is key to mental wellness.

5. Make a list

Whether it's for work or personal life, you can beat a good old ‘to-do’ list. Lists create order, relieve stress, and allow you to organise your time and set priorities - all of which contribute to maintaining good mental health as we’re able to break down our day into more manageable tasks. Just like making your bed in the morning, setting smaller, achievable goals will help you stay focused and see you achieve lots of little wins.

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