Is your daughter self-harming, and you don’t know how to help?
Is her self-harming taking its toll on the whole family?

The teenage years can be troublesome for any adolescent, and outside influences such as peer pressure, family life or uncertain life events, bullying or defining gender/sexual orientation can really impact a teenager’s day to day life. Individuals that self-harm usually do not want to die. Often self-harm is used as a coping mechanism to survive through life’s challenges rather than end it. Most young people self-harm as a way to alleviate their emotional distress, stop experiencing numbness, or manage overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings.

6-8% of young people in Australia aged 15-24 years engage in self-harm in any 12-month period. Young women are more likely to engage in self-harm than young men, with 17% of Australian females and 12% of males aged 15-19 years, and 24% of females and 18% of males aged 20-24 years reporting self-harm at some point in their life.

If you suspect your daughter is self-harming, however are afraid to raise the topic and ask her, what do you do?

Only 50% of people who self-harm actually ask for help, and they usually ask their parents, family or their friends first, before mental health professionals. This means it is imperative to initiate the conversation with your daughter. Openly discussing self-harm can help stop its reoccurrence. Parents are a valuable resource to help stop these behaviours.

Risk factors to self-harm include: Gender, low socioeconomic status, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sexual orientation, adverse family and life events (e.g., parental separation, childhood abuse, family history of mental health disorders, bullying) as well as mental health disorders, alcohol and drug use, low self-esteem, low social skills, perfectionism, hopelessness.

Once you are aware your daughter is self-harming:

  • When you interact with her it is unhelpful to show anger or significant sadness. Instead speak openly, gently, and calmly with her.
  • Immediately address her current safety by removing the objects she may be using to self-harm. Let your daughter know why you have done this (removing the object is not a reflection that you do not trust your daughter, but that she currently needs extra help to manage her emotions and as a parent your primary job is to protect her).
  • Ask your daughter to promise to you that if she has another urge to self-harm, to tell an adult that can help her.
  • Remind her that you are always there to listen, and support her, but also allow her to talk to another adult (other than you) if she prefers. Ask her to name this adult and you can then inform this person. If your daughter is unable to agree with this request, it is vital for her to promptly see a mental health professional, such as a Psychologist or local GP.
  • As a team, find 3 activities, either by herself or with someone else, that she can do when she has the urge to self-harm as a form of distraction. These activities should be something she can easily do at any time. Ask her to write these activities down and put the paper somewhere obvious in her bedroom.

One self-harm attempt increases the likelihood of another occurring. If the self-harming continues after you have tried these above tips, it is crucial for you both to see a mental health professional. Our Adolescent Psychologist Mrs Jenn Hawken is experienced with managing self-harm in adolescents and has supported teens to rise to the challenge and develop more effective management approaches for their distress. Jenn is keen to open the conversation with you and your teenager right now – Contact Jenn.

Written by Jenn Hawken – Psychologist –

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