The following blog post was written by Harrison, 15 years old, during his work experience with the HBSC England team. After studying the latest HBSC England national report, Harrison has reflected on the findings and given an insight into the lives of young people. It is a fascinating read...
During my work experience, I took some time to read through the recent HBSC England report. There were a few figures and points that I found interesting, and even some that I felt could benefit from a young person’s input or explanation. I thought I’d try to sum up some of the reasons that I see for a distressing increase in self-injury behaviour (1/5 of 15 year olds have self-harmed at some point in their life) and mainly reasons for stress in teens.
In some cases, problems stem from home life. From personal experience, you can really tell when something’s wrong at home just from how someone acts around you, and sometimes the person feels like they can’t tell anyone in fear of making it worse for themselves or passing on a burden. In fact, it is very important not to internalise stress or depressive thoughts; this is often a cause for self-injury behaviour. With a decrease in young people living at home with both parents, this could be seen as one reason for the increase in self-harm among adolescents.
However, it isn’t only the stress from parental events that can affect someone’s self-injuring tendencies. A hugely influential factor, across all social groups and walks of life, is communication and support. The combination of many middle-aged parents being stereotypically hard to approach about personal subjects and stereotypical reserved, vague teens often leads to breakdowns in communication at the most crucial times in a young person’s life. Without any encouragement, discussion, advice or opinion from someone more experienced and capable, navigating the quickly-changing life of an adolescent alone can bring stress levels up to a colossal high. It is of the upmost importance that parents make absolutely sure that their child is ok; without guidance and someone to confide in, internal pressure from stress can violently explode in forms of self-harm.
On a partially related note, the rise in support for LGBT rights, acceptance and equality has been hugely noted by the youth. Some have been prompted to ‘come out’ as non-heterosexuals, and the movement is extremely important for teens during their most explorative years to realise what they identify as. With successful campaigns such as the Facebook rainbow ‘profile pictures’ being spread around and used by teens, the movement has helped distinctly with the LGBT teens. In some cases though, the embracing of LGBT activities or ‘coming out’ has led to self-harm behaviour.
Imagine yourself as an adolescent who finds they are bisexual. Now, imagine that your parent/s is/are homophobic. Being surrounded by anti-different ideals and behaviours at home whilst undergoing a transitional phase is, evidently, hard. Having to keep everything to yourself, having to change who you are around others, is going to take a massive toll on you emotionally. Even worse is that if your parents don’t support the LGBT movement, you can hardly discuss the things on your mind with them. And it doesn’t just apply to parents. At school, perhaps not on purpose, homophobic language is everywhere. New coat? That’s gay. Got the answer right when someone else didn’t? Gay. Staying behind after a lesson to consolidate your knowledge, extra revision before an exam, helping someone who doesn’t understand? You get the point. It is easy to see why LGBT teens would feel uncomfortable or unaccepted at school, where they spend most of their days. Of course, ridicule and accusations are going to lead to a build-up of stress and emotional pain. With nobody understanding, you can sympathise with the LGBT community and realise that sometimes the pressures and thoughts become too much.
My final point regarding stress is the one I find the most suited to my experience is regarding age. The 2014 HBSC England report found that young people aged 15 had the most weekly reports of trouble sleeping, with 40% of all 15 year olds identifying it. Sleep loss is both a key indicator and contributor to stress, and this is down to school work. I can tell you with full confidence that GCSEs become your life. Every lesson is a constant reminder and every hour, minute, second is one closer to the daunting reality of the exams. Even the most well-prepared, almost perfect student will struggle to keep on top of revision, homework, social activities and winding down. With months unfortunately stacking up coursework on top of this, it surprised me that only 40% reported sleep loss more than once a week. This is one pressure that adds to the negative and depressive thinking that some teens show. Another comes from social stigmas. Self-harm is seen as a stigma in itself, those who self-harm being seen as weak or needy. Many of the adolescents may find confessing what they do for this reason. On top of this, the study also showed that in general young people find it harder to talk to their parents as they get older. Honestly this makes sense to me, for several reasons:
a) the problems they’re likely to be facing are generally more private or intimate
b) teens enjoy independence and self-sufficiency
c) puberty brings about a concoction of hormones, making every conversation a ticking time bomb for confrontation
and d) you begin to realise that privacy and sorting issues out alone is important in life.
To conclude, I fully understand why the 15 year old population self-harm the most. A breakdown in communication combined with social and educational stress factors certainly leads towards major problems internally for teens. For this reason, I ask any parents reading this to make sure they have a strong, trusting link with their child and should commit completely to supporting and helping them with stress, especially during year 11.