Harmless’ progress in the field of self harm

It has been a really busy time for us at Harmless for the past few months. Everyone within the team is working so hard to ensure the future of the organisation; each week we are seeing a rise in the number of requests that we are seeing for support for self harm.
When Harmless began it was a small organisation, established to support the needs of people that self harm on a local level, but the ambition or the service was to become a leader in the area, not just locally, but Nationally. Now, with a growing team and an even greater growing reputation Harmless continues to remain dedicated to the needs of people that self harm. The demand for our service is both alarming and really sad, but also reassuring that people can turn to us.
In recent months, we would estimate that the referrals of young people for help with self harm, has increased by 60%. This also fits with the local picture and presentation to other local services for young people.
We have also seen a far greater number of requests for training around the issue of self harm and suicide prevention. The need for training is great. It is a positive move that services are taking this issue seriously; that they are asking for help to enable them to support people that self harm more effectively. We hope that in our work, every day, we are helping to improve the lives of people that self harm but we are also looking to grow and change and to improve what we have on offer.
We constantly need your support – whether it be to spread the word, or to help with fundraising in your local area, or to distribute our leaflets, or share the link to our blog and website. Every person that reads this has an opportunity to help us reach more people, and every person reached is one more that can help someone.
Thank you to all our supporters!

Self harm and young people training nearly full – Book now to avoid disappointment!

Harmless’ upcoming ‘self harm and young people‘ training on Thursday 27th February is filling fast and anyone looking to book a place is advised to book quickly to avoid disappointment.

Harmless also has limited number of spaces available for our mental health awareness training (To be delivered on Thursday 20th February 2014).

You can book a place on either of the above training days by emailing training@harmless.org.uk or by phoning 01159 348445 (admin line only).

You can find out more information about all our upcoming training by clicking here. You can also book by via our website.


Online forums and self harm and suicide

The suicide of 15-year-old Tallulah Wilson is the latest to be linked to disturbing online forums. We talk to the devastated parents calling for change

‘We cut and kill flowers because we think they’re beautiful,” reads the blog post, written in a child’s scrawl. “We cut and kill ourselves because we think we are not.” Beneath it is a photograph, taken from the neck down. The subject’s sleeve is rolled up. The words “You are pathetic” have been scratched into their forearm with a penknife.

One click and another image pops up. “You never thought blood was pretty – until you saw it bleeding out of your own skin,” reads this one. There is a cartoon depicting Mickey Mouse hanging from a noose; a photograph of a girl, her hips purple with bruises; another of a slit wrist. “I remember the first time…” someone else has typed, next to a picture of a pencil sharpener, its blades removed.
These horrific words and disturbing images do not come from the darkest corners of the internet. Nor were they found in password-protected chatrooms, nor age-verified forums. They are posted on a free blogging site, one with 160 million, mostly young, users.

Members of social network sites owned can access this harrowing content by typing “self-harm” into a search box and dismissing a warning. Elsewhere on the internet, a simple Google search produces tens of thousands of “pro-self-harm” websites.

It was this toxic digital world that lured Tallulah Wilson, the 15-year-old aspiring ballet dancer whose inquest concluded this week in London. No parent could look at that beautiful, youthful face and not see their own daughter. Tallulah, a talented teenager from West Hampstead who had been head-hunted by the Royal Ballet School, became addicted to the internet after developing clinical depression.

She created a fantasy character online, a cocaine-taking anorexic, and began posting distraught messages and photographs of her self-inflicted cuts. Before her mother discovered her blog and asked Social networking site to take it down, she had amassed 18,000 followers. Devastated that her online world had been taken away, Tallulah threw herself in front of a train at St Pancras station in October 2012.

Speaking after the inquest, her mother Sarah demanded action to “stop this poison spreading”, urging websites to protect vulnerable teenagers. “She had fallen into a world of nightmares,” she said in a statement. “I was shocked by the ease with which Tallulah and other children can access online self-harm blogs. Tallulah entered a world where the lines between fantasy and reality became blurred.”

Though the issue of self-harm is no longer taboo, the online communities springing up among sufferers – many of them perpetuating and exacerbating the illness – remain largely unregulated and rarely discussed. One of the largest, featuring horrifying user photographs of cuts, scars and burns, has hundreds of members around the world. Many of the 22,000 young people treated in Britain’s hospitals in 2012 for self-inflicted injuries will have visited, contributed to and been “inspired” by these sites. For some, like Tallulah, the consequences may be tragic.

Delving into this dark digital space reveals websites, blogs and forums devoted to the most insidious of subjects. Some take self-destruction to unimaginable extremes, with users “liking” and sharing images and accounts of self-mutilation and suicide. Members discuss in detail how they might hurt themselves or even take their own lives.

Stephen Habgood, a retired prison governor from Staffordshire, is another victim of this world. In March 2009, he lost his son, Christopher, 26, who shortly before his death had begun accessing websites about suicide. It was here, his father believes, that he found the means and encouragement to take his own life.

“He had suffered for many years from depression,” explains Stephen, now chairman of the charity Papyrus, which is dedicated to the prevention of young suicides. “But he was very bright, very funny, very good looking. He always had girlfriends. He was doing a course in forensic computing at Stafford University and he was staying away from home. Like many young people, he liked going online. I never imagined it could end the way it did.”

After Christopher’s death, Stephen found out that he had tried to kill himself once before, and had gone online to look for an alternative method. “It was clear from his computer that he’d downloaded a book and that he’d visited sites that encouraged him and talked about methods,” he says. “I was only aware of the websites afterwards because he left a series of notes. He said he was ashamed; worn out from trying to live a life of pretence.”

Psychologists, who have an insight into online communities via their patients, say they are growing in influence. Julie Lynn Evans, a psychotherapist who works with young people, says users become part of a “destructive club” from which it is difficult to escape.

“If you’re playing around the edges, you go on and they encourage you,” she adds. “They only talk to that side of your personality, spurring you on. You’re by yourself, being urged to do the worst. It’s completely unmonitored. They encourage that sickness with no sensible guide towards wellness.”

Rachel Summers, a mother-of-two from north London, says that her daughter, who started self-harming at the age of 15, wasn’t speaking to strangers but friends online. “She did go on websites a lot, late into the night,” her mother recalls. “She was talking to her peers; they were egging each other on. She was at a very academic school and there was this little group who competed to see who had the most cuts and who could do it in the most extreme way.”

Rachel confiscated collections of scissors, blades and penknives from her daughter’s room, and persuaded her to attend therapy. Seven years later, she is fully recovered. “We weren’t aware of what the internet could do back then,” Rachel says. “It’s really frightening; you have no idea who they’re talking to. We tried Net Nanny and other software, but you can’t stop them. I don’t know how you police this – it’s an addiction.”

Though safeguards have been proposed none seems to be working. Harmful content floods the internet, infecting damaged young minds with vile ideas and destructive desires. Yet some experts argue that banning the sites, or removing content on blogs through controls imposed by internet service providers – risks driving communities further underground.

Heather Maitland, a mother-of-three from Chester, agrees the solution is more complex. Her daughter, Sara, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 15, and Heather found out she had been secretly self-harming. “She does it when she gets very low, generally when she’s eaten less,” she says. “She thumps her hips, pinches herself until she bruises, scratches a particular area on her hand until it bleeds.”

As Sara, now 19, started to recover, she joined an online community of young people going through similar experiences. “It’s like her little friendship group,” says Heather. “We are very open about it and it is a positive thing for her. But we both know she has to let it go one day. The longer you stay within that community, the more it saps you of reality, and I believe that’s what happened with Tallulah. She had low self-esteem and she was sucked deeper and deeper into this vortex of horror.”

Whatever form they take, Caroline Roe, director of the charity Harmless and a former self-harmer, says safeguards are imperative. “When it comes to social networking, we’re all a bit apathetic because we’re worried about limiting freedom of speech,” she says. “But suicide is the second biggest killer [of young people] in our country. We know these things are risk factors and that our young people are exposed to them. These websites are harmful and I fail to understand why we are not taking more considerable action against them.”

More than 91 per cent of young people in Britain have internet access at home, and 75 per cent on their mobiles. Any one of them can enter the same toxic world that poisoned the minds of Tallulah and Christopher; a world that can do untold damage.

In recent years, the Government has tackled another online scourge which threatens young people. The campaign against internet pornography and the proliferation of child abuse images online has been effective, with blocking filters due to come into force in 20 million households later this year. Moreover, Prime Minister David Cameron warned search engines that the removal of such content was not simply necessary, but a moral duty. Surely web content promoting self-harm and suicide must be our next target?

“In my work now, I do everything I can to help other people’s children,” says Stephen Habgood. “One of our campaigns is to have taken down websites which encourage and support this kind of behaviour. It makes me so angry that they exist. Young people who have mental health issues are prey to people who will exploit them online and we need to show them that there are places to get help.”

He does all this, he says, for Christopher. He was his only child – and the internet robbed him of a future. “Every day I miss having him around,” says Stephen. “I miss making plans with him, laughing and joking with him. I just miss him being in my life.”

Self harm and suicide conference

Harmless’ team are today at ‘The challenge of tackling self harm and suicide in school age children and young people’ conference at Nottingham University.

The conference has brought together nearly 300 professionals from across academic and professional services to communicate about these difficult and challenging issues.

Director, Caroline held a successful workshop earlier in the day where 80 people attended to explore the work of harmless and the tomorrow project.

We hope that this is the beginning of further relationships with professionals across the UK.

If you’d like to hear more about the day, East Midlands Today at 6:30 will be featuring interviews from contributors, including Caroline on tonight’s news.



Harmless Director to speak at self harm and suicide conference

Later this week representatives from Harmless and The Tomorrow Project will be attending a self harm and suicide conference at Nottingham University. The conference will be looking at “The Challenges of Tackling Self-Harm and Suicide in School Age Children and Young People”.

Harmless Director, Caroline Harroe, will also be speaking at the conference and delivering a session called “Going where we need to go: Community based interventions for self harm and suicide in young people”.

Caroline will be talking about Harmless’ and the Tomorrow Projects three tier model of responding to self harm and suicide in young people; designing services that are responsive and representative to need and taking services where they need to go in order to make significant change in the rise in these difficulties in young people.

The Harmless and TP team look forward to collaborating with other professionals and services to improve self harm and suicide services.

What is it like to work for Harmless? Our trainer writes about her experiences delivering self harm training

Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Harmless team will write about their experiences of working for our organisation. The first of these posts is written by our trainer, Satveer, who has spoken about her experience of delivering self harm training to the school she first attended as a student:

”This week marked the beginning of the delivery of sessions in the Rushcliffe borough to secondary school teachers and parents regarding self-harm education. I delivered a session with staff from The Emotional Health and Wellbeing Team to staff at a school in the area, the first of what we hope will be many.

For me this was a surreal experience as I used to be a pupil at this school and my self-harm began while I was a pupil there, struggling to cope with family problems. This was a fantastic opportunity to go back and show the staff who had taught me just how far I had come. In me having this opportunity it really encompasses Harmless’s work, empowering service users and showing there can be a positive, successful future after self-harm.

The verbal feedback after the session was excellent with some saying it was the best training they have been on. More sessions to come at other schools in the borough and with parents that we hope will be just as inspirational and productive.

Satveer Nijjar, Trainer, Harmless”

Hospitals are to publish yearly figures on the number of people attending A&E for self-harm

Hospitals are to publish yearly figures on the number of people attending A&E for self-harm and whether they get the right help.

Around 300,000 visits are thought to be made to A&E departments in England every year for cases of self-harm.

Figures suggest that around half the 4,500 people who commit suicide every year have a history of hurting themselves. Evidence shows that people with suicidal thoughts or those who have self-harmed are less likely to try to kill or harm themselves if they undergo psychological assessments.

In one study, patients receiving a psychological assessment had a 40 per cent lower chance of self-harming again.

The announcement, from the Department of Health, is set out in the Suicide Prevention Strategy for England – One Year On Update, and comes ahead of a speech on mental health on Monday by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

The strategy is intended to provide a picture of self-harm across the country and establish whether people are receiving psychological assessments.

Among the local work highlighted is that of the Leeds Bereavement Forum, which has produced a short document with details of local and national support services available for people in the city bereaved by suicide or another traumatic death.

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: “Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress and it is crucial that people receive the support and care they need to address the underlying issues causing the urge to self-harm.

“But, too often, people who self-harm experience negative attitudes and lack of knowledge from staff. We are determined to stamp out the stigma and negative attitudes surrounding mental health.

“That’s why for the first time hospitals will publish figures on people who self-harm. This is vital to get a better picture of the scale of the problem and to allow the NHS to ensure people who self-harm get the right help and support.”

Under the announcement, families who are concerned that a relative may be at risk of suicide will also be offered greater support.

A joint statement between the Government and organisations such as regulators and Royal colleges has been agreed to to promote greater sharing of information on suicide risk.

Mr Lamb said: “Family and friends of loved ones who are having suicidal thoughts are often the first to notice when something is not right.

“We have heard from families bereaved by suicide that they feel there is sometimes more they felt they could do.

“Health professionals can be understandably worried about whether to share information – this will make sure they can be confident listening and talking to families to make sure patients get the right support.”

Harmless Self Harm Resources – Give Us Your Thoughts….

Many of you will be aware that Harmless currently sells a range of resources, including our workbook and DVD, that can be used by those that self harm to promote recovery and self reflection or by professionals and carers to enhance understanding, empathy and strategies that are helpful when supporting people who self harm.

In the upcoming months, Harmless are looking to introduce new self harm resources that people can buy and we would love to hear your thoughts about what you would like to see become available. Maybe a new DVD? Or a new workbook? Please let us know what you think should be included. Or perhaps another useful tool which you think would be helpful?

Please feel free to email info@harmless.org.uk and forward suggestions or leave us a message on our Facebook or Twitter pages. We look forward to hearing from you.

All our resources are available to buy via our online shop www.harmless.org.uk/store

More Self Harm and Suicide Prevention Workshops to be delivered in schools

The Tomorrow Project is meeting with colleges across Nottingham to discuss and plan delivering workshops on Self Harm and Suicide prevention.

Our Tomorrow Project representative is working to identify the needs of the organisation  to provide a bespoke service specifically geared to the needs of both students and professionals. This will enable us to offer support, training and advice around self harm and suicide prevention to 100s of young people as well as professionals.

Find out more about the work the Tomorrow Project is doing at tomorrowproject.org.uk

Childline reports surge in calls about self harm and suicide

ChildLine’s recently published Can I Tell You Something? report has revealed a worrying trend for teenagers to contact the service about issues such as self-harm, suicide and online bullying.

ChildLine reports an 87 per cent increase in contacts regarding online bullying, whilst bullying contacts overall increased by just eight per cent.
More than 1,400 young people told ChildLine that they were experiencing racist bullying, a significant 69 per cent increase on last year. A common theme was for young people to be called a “terrorist” or a “bomber” and to be told to “go back to where they came from”.

Self-harm was mentioned in almost 47,000 counselling sessions, a 41 per cent year-on-year increase. ChildLine also reports a very worrying 50 per cent rise in contacts about self-harm specifically from 12 year olds – the highest increase of any age.

Contacts where young people felt suicidal increased by 33 per cent, with over 4,500 contacts from children aged between the ages of 12 and 15 alone, regarding suicide.

Peter Wanless, CEO of NSPCC has called for the voices of vulnerable children to be heard if these new emerging problems are to be tackled.

Barbara McIntosh, Head of Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, responded to the report:

“These figures confirm the urgent need to tackle the escalating problems of child and adolescent mental health in the UK. The fact that the top issues affecting young people last year were depression and unhappiness is very worrying. We know half of all lifetime mental health problems have their roots in childhood so prevention and help early on are essential to ensure young people’s wellbeing.

“Early intervention and appropriate, youth friendly services are vital if we are to prevent mental health problems from becoming chronic and enduring in adulthood. The great economic benefits are compelling, with a potential saving of £150,000 per child alongside the reduction in anguish faced by each young person and his or her family.”