Listen to Michelle’s discussion with Timothy Charles in the audio player above.
It’s a difficult topic to broach with our kids but talking to our kids about self harm is an important conversation to have.
It could even save a life – Lifeline reports that self harm is a really common predictor for suicide. Even if the person self-harming is using it as a self coping strategy, the risk of accidental death is still very real.
Michelle Mitchell is the founder of Youth Excel and has worked with thousands of young people and their families over the past 20 years. She is also the author of the book Self Harm, providing parents with practical help to respond in a comforting manner.
Michelle told 96five’s Timothy Charles that there were a number of reasons that children choose self harm as relief or form of expression.
“It’s never just one thing, but it’s often mental health – their anxiety, depression and impulsivity at that moment in their lives. Add in stressful life events and then family instability can exasperate it as well. The frequency and severity of self harm is more commonly associated with an increased combination of these things.”
Michelle said that the language our teens used was important in identifying a self harm risk.
“I’m very much attuned to desperate language; when they say things like ‘I don’t think I can cope’ or ‘I don’t know what I would do’ – that sort of language when they feel like there’s no hope or next step, we need to watch out for that.”
If our kids have started self harming, the advice from Michelle is to try and approach the situation with one of acceptance and love.
“To lift the shame that’s associated with self harm, parents will need to process their emotions away from their teenager. Parents might feel angry, guilty or a sense of denial and all of those emotions are really valid. Taking that breath to process it first is really important, because then we can wade in with a lot of ‘soft and close’, and a lot of understanding.”
Ultimately, Michelle says that acceptance will help parents move forward with their young person.
“By not coming from a place of judgement and asking what you can do to help will really put you on ‘the team’ of your child. But a big mistake we can make as parents is trying to sweep it under the carpet – every child deserves the option of seeing a doctor or psychologist; don’t try to deal with it in-house.”
If this story raises issues for you please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.