On 23rd September, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) released an inquiry report investigating the support available for young people who self-harm. Many organisations contributed evidence and advocated for young people in aid of the report, including Harmless.
Many conclusions were drawn from this report, however, the main one was this: the support for young people who self-harm is not good enough.
For those who don’t know me, I’m Laura and I’m one of the clinical support officers for the Tomorrow Project crisis pathway. I started this role in March, following a short internship with Harmless a few months prior. However, I first came to Harmless in 2014 as a 16-year-old client seeking support for self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Whilst reading the APPG report, I was overwhelmed with how many young people are not receiving adequate support for their self-harm. The finding that particularly upset me, was how so many young people are turned away from support, due to their self-harm lacking severity. The report particularly discussed the word “superficial”, and explained how this word alienates young people.
The support system working in this way, gives the impression that young people’s level of distress can be measured by the severity of self-harm, but that is not the case . This sends a message to young people that only those who are severely self-harming are eligible for support, whilst those who are self-harming “superficially” do not meet the necessary requirements, no matter the extent of their emotional distress. This is such a dangerous ideology. All self-harm needs to be addressed, no matter the severity.
The danger of this ideology is reflected in the invalidation of emotional distress. When young people are turned away by support services due to “superficial” self-harm, the emotional distress that they are experiencing is invalidated. I constantly see campaigns, on social media especially, encouraging people to “reach out” and to “ask for help” if they are struggling with their mental health, but let’s imagine how it must feel for a young person to gather the courage and reach out to services for support, only to be met with invalidation and apathy. Rejected, alone, and hopeless are words that immediately come to mind. This should not be happening.
Anyone who needs mental health support should receive it when they need it. No exceptions.
I am so privileged to have accessed support from Harmless. The support that I received was never dependent on the severity of self-harm, and I never once felt as though my mental health was “not bad enough” to deserve to be listened to. I never once felt pressured to prove my distress, and was always met with compassion and validation. Reading the APPG report has made me very aware of how privileged that makes me, as so many young people are not fortunate enough to receive such support.
But this is not something that should depend on luck. Every single young person who is at risk of, has thoughts of, or engages in self-harm behaviour, should be welcomed by support services with reassurance, empathy, and kindness. And that is the bare minimum. We must do better.
I have now recovered from my struggles with my mental health, and I am now working for the Tomorrow Project on their suicide crisis pathway. Life has very literally turned 180 degrees for me, and I hope that this reassures anyone reading this that hope exists, and that life can get better. If you are looking for support, please know that Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are here whenever you feel ready, and you will be met by a passionate, caring, and supportive team.
You deserve to be listened to.
Link to the full APPG report and executive summary: https://www.samaritans.org/appg/
Link to a Twitter thread from our Suicide Crisis Twitter, summarising each of the 13 recommendations outlined in the report: https://twitter.com/TP_crisis/status/1308754820887728130
Link to our mental health training Eventbrite page, in response to recommendation no. 8: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/harmless-lets-talk-training-14795237737
Here are the details for our three clinical pathways:
0115 880 0280
Tomorrow Project – Crisis Team:
0115 880 0282 (leave a message)
Tomorrow Project – Bereavement Team: firstname.lastname@example.org