Coaching Teenagers and Self-Harm

As my coaching business grows and develops in local schools, so does my exposure to children who are considered a self-harm or a suicide risk. This in itself is so sad and it makes me ask myself “What leads so many students down this harmful path?”

Sadly there is no clear answer to that question for me.  What I do know from my coaching experience is that social media impacts significantly on young peoples lives. Information can be shared widely and  immediately, especially with the technology at teenagers’ fingers. Communication becomes detached with minimal face to face contact which is a worry for later life in the workplace. Then there is the pressure to perform knowing that results will be published for all to see. These were definitely not around when I went to secondary school.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of young people self-harm which means that it is likely that two students in an average secondary school classroom have self-harmed at some point. Some young people can take this further and exhibit suicidal behaviour which could include death by suicide, suicide attempt and suicidal ideation.

The reason for self-harm can vary from student to student. Some of the triggers that can lead to self-harm are:

  • Difficulties at home – problems with siblings impacting on home-life, divorce of parents, death of a family member
  • Friendship issues – arguments/problems with friends, bullying
  • School pressures – GCSEs, A Levels, presentations
  • Panic and anxiety – social exclusion and interaction, confidence issues
  • Depression – low mood and self-esteem, retracting from daily life
  • Transition and changes – moving house or school
  • Alcohol and drug use

When someone self-harms, they usually do not intend to take their own life. They self-harm as a method to cope with stress and enable them to control upsetting feelings. Others do so to dissociate from their problems by distracting themselves from emotional pain. Some research suggests that self-harm can activate different chemicals in the brain which relieve emotional stress for a short period of time.

Other motivations for self-harm include:

  • To reduce sadness/loneliness
  • To reduce tension/anxiety
  • To alleviate anger
  • To get help or show distress to others
  • As a punishment to oneself due to self-hatred
  • To escape feelings of numbness – to feel something rather than nothing

To assist young people in dealing with self-harm I find it useful to:

  • Listen actively to what they have to say
  • Understand their triggers and symptoms
  • Build rapport and a relationship based on trust
  • Establish if they are ready to make some changes
  • Confirm who can make that change happen and who has control

Clarifying the above means I can then start to work with the student to build their specific solutions and strategies to move them forward. It is important for them to know that they will not always feel the way that they do currently. Applying a little determination with planning, preparation and practice will start to initiate the necessary change to move them towards a happier life.

With the right support most people that self-harm can and do fully recover. If you know of a young person that is struggling with self-harm and would benefit from life coaching then please contact me.