Eastenders has recently been praised by several mental health charities for its sensitive portrayal of its self-harm storyline. In recent weeks, Amy – daughter of Jack Branning (Scott Maslen)- has been feeling isolated from her family and friends, and is seen cutting her arm by a friend of the family who encourages her to speak to her father.
Amy’s story helps highlight that self-harming is all too real, it’s not attention-seeking or something to be dismissed, and every young person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Jack’s reaction to being told that his daughter has been self-harming is all too real. A parent will go from feeling angry, sad, guilty and helpless all in the space of a few hours.
Sadly, many parents find themselves in Jack’s position. According to mental health charity Young Minds, around one young person in 12 self-harms, with prevalence among those aged 15-16, as high as one in 10. But this figure is based on reported self-harm cases and accounts for young people who have presented to A&E or other medical services. As such, it probably doesn’t reflect the whole picture.
We also know that self-harm is much more common among young people who have been diagnosed with mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. They are usually expressing some kind of emotional pain that they find difficult to talk about. In fact, it’s thought that as many as 25% of girls aged 17-19 with a mental health diagnosis have self-harmed.
Commonly, self-harm involves people cutting themselves – often their arms and sometimes other parts of their body. People might hurt themselves by burning or scratching their skin, or hitting walls. Sometimes a person might punch a window or a wall for example, not because they’re angry but because they need to feel the pain.
There are crossovers between some forms of self-harming behaviour and mental health conditions. Heavy drinking or binge eating, while most commonly associated with addiction or disordered eating, is sometimes behaviour used to self-harm.
When people self-harm, the intention is to hurt or injure themselves. As well as conveying emotional distress, it can be a way for people to punish themselves or to relieve overwhelming tension or anxiety.
Whatever the reason behind the behaviour, the most important thing is to seek help. At Spurgeons, we always recommend young people reach out to those around them to help them access the help they need. We have counsellors in schools who can help, and parents can also refer to our Zoom counselling.