It can be very distressing for a parent or carer to see a child who has self harmed. But sadly this behaviour is increasing. According to Young Minds 24% of 17 year olds admitted that they had self harmed at some point in their lives and 7% of these declared suicidal intent. These stats are from 2019 and we know that they have increased alongside an increase in mental health conditions.
Self harm can be a symptom of high anxiety, low self esteem, a way of trying to retain some control or a way of punishing yourself. For some it is a cry for help.
At Stable and Wild we use our approach to support young people who self harm.
How can animal and nature assisted interventions help young people who are demonstrating this level of distress?
Firstly, animals don’t judge or ask questions and that immediately helps to put a young person at ease. They know that they won’t be questioned or reprimanded for their actions by an animal and in fact contact with an animal can often bring about a lot of comfort through the unconditional support, acceptance and companionship that being with an animal offers.
We can see in the photo how this young person is holding Winter the rabbit and how stroking Winter can offer a calming and sensory reassurance which helps a young person to relax and feel calm.
This experience can in turn help to relieve stress and manage anxiety which can sometimes be catalysts for self harming behaviour.
In our Stable and Wild community we care for the other species around us to create a sense of purpose and responsibility that can take the focus away from self harm and build a sense of self worth and accomplishment.
Socially interacting with others can build a trusting and supportive environment where a young person feels more at ease sharing their thoughts and feelings with trusted adults. This can help to identify the root of their fears and anxiety, which enable the skilled coach to work with the young person on strategies that may help them to cope more effectively.
Most of all, animals and nature can help to work through those situations that are creating emotional distress and develop alternative healthy coping strategies to reduce and eliminate the need to self harm.
If you are concerned about a child or member of your family then there are a number of agencies you can contact to get immediate support, such as Harmless who support people who self harm or their friends and family and The Mix who offer a text chat service for anyone who is under 25. Young Minds also have a self harm page on their website with lots of information and other organisations to contact.
If you would like to know more about how we can support children who are self harming then please do get in touch.