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There's a growing pro self-harm movement and it's worrying mental health experts

It is estimated that at least 100,000 people are self-harming in Ireland every year.

Image: Philippa Willitts via Flickr

MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS have become increasingly concerned about the level of self-harm in Ireland – particularly amongst teens, as promotion of the practice becomes more prevalent on social media websites.

Dr Tony Bates, founder of teen mental health centre Headstrong and a clinical psychologist  who worked in St James’ Hospital in Dublin for more than 20 years, said the numbers of people self-harming in Ireland are rising.

Figures for 2013 found that over 11,000 people ended up in hospital after self-harming.

“Those numbers are only figuratively 10% of what’s actually happening so we have at least 100,000 people self-harming in a year,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Self-harm on the web

In recent years, teenagers have been using blogs and social media websites to share photos of their self-harm, seeking either sympathy or approval from their peers.

We viewed a number of these disturbing sites on which young people open up about their pain, though many say they keep their problems and their harming from their families.

On an Instagram account, a girl of about 14 frequently posts extremely graphic photographs of her bloodied wrists. An image of a particularly deep cut drew comments from another user asking if she had to get stitches. This user, also a teenager, said they also self-harm and want to be able to cut themselves that deep but don’t want to have to get stitches.

As part of another comment thread, a teen tells her: “Your scars aren’t ugly they are just battle scars baby, stay strong.”

A video on the social media site also shows a young girl threading a needle and thread through the skin on her arm, telling followers it is “better than cutting”.

“Self-harm is pain relief,” Dr Bates explained. “We think it’s a problem but for most young people who do it it’s a solution.”

Most self harm is not an attempted suicide – it’s a rush of adrenaline, a cut, a drop in blood pressure.

“There are now young people in self-harm groups who are fighting for this as a legitimate thing to do and there’s a whole movement growing. In England it’s quite strong.”

Bates said people who are part of this movement feel very much the same as gay people felt before the gay rights movement began.

They’re saying: “Don’t judge me, don’t put a label on me”.

Triggers

A large number of the blogs on Tumblr that feature self-harm are also pro-anorexia, with images of extremely thin girls and memes about starving yourself.

Many of their blogs or social media accounts detail how many days “clean” they are, with most acknowledging that they have an addiction to cutting themselves. Though many of the comments encourage them to seek help and stop hurting themselves, the photos can often be a trigger for other teens who self-harm.

“It’s very worrying – it’s like anything, young people are very influenced by others and especially their peers so this could encourage them to do the same thing,” commented Margie Roe, manager of Childline.

She said the helpline has already received over 246 calls from children about self-harm. In 2013, the total number of calls about this issue was 347 and there were also 360 conversations about it through its online and text services.

“What young people tell us is that they’re using this as a coping strategy – it distracts from the emotional pain and the feeling,” said Roe. ” We need to teach young people healthier ways and more positive ways to cope with what they’re feeling.”

If you need someone to talk to, contact:

  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: Over 11,000 people ended up in hospital last year after self-harming>

Read: ‘It was amazing to be listened to’ – This service helped 2,500 young people last year>

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