Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Influence of friends and peers

Self-harm is very common in young people, and having friends who self-harm can influence others to do this. Parents we talked to were aware of this: Susan Y said she was shocked at how many people in her daughter’s school self-harmed. Ann told us that self-harm was rife in schools and thought that children should be taught how to problem-solve. 
Several parents definitely linked their child’s self-harm with seeing similar behaviour in other young people. Nicky said that self-harming was ‘almost like a badge of honour’ in her daughter’s circle. She thought her daughter was drawn towards other girls like her, who found cutting a way of coping. Ruth worried that even if her daughter was ready to stop harming herself, she would be influenced by her peer group to continue. Sarah Z, Nick, Annette and Nicky spoke about teenage Goth or Emo culture which focused on the darker side of life. Sharon (see clip above) did not see self-harm as ‘catching’, but did think it was becoming more acceptable. Vicki’s daughter had told her she felt most like self-harming when she was worried about a suicidal friend. Suicide is very much rarer than self-harm. Three parents told us about a suicide in their child’s friendship group. 
Some parents were unsure whether their child knew about friends self-harming, but others were confident that none of their child’s close friends had self-harmed. A few parents felt guilty when a friend of their child later harmed themselves as they felt this might be seen as copying their child’s behaviour. Sarah Z said she felt terrible when one of her daughter’s best friends tried it. 

Bullying and other unpleasant behaviour are known to play a part in self-harm (see also section on ‘Influence of the internet and social media’). The unkindness of her friends triggered another mental health crisis for Jo’s daughter, and Pat strongly believed that bullying had contributed to his daughter’s distress. However several parents told us how helpful and supportive their children’s friends had been. 

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