Hundreds of young people are being treated at Wigan A&E for self-inflicted wounds – and the numbers have rocketed in a matter of months.
Shocking new figures show a far larger percentage of people mutilating themselves deliberately in the borough than the national average in terms of head of population.
Of the 1,063 emergency self-harming admissions to Wigan Infirmary’s casualty in the year ending March 2018, many were young people and a great number of them were female.
The statistics were released as social media sites announced they would clamp down on the sharing of self-harm images.
The Public Health England data show that 333 cases were registered for every 100,000 people in the borough – a much higher ratio than the North West’s average of 235.
The number of cases last year in Wigan was a large increase on 2016-17, when there were 879 admissions.
More of the cases concerned female patients, with 602 admissions of women or girls for self-harm: 57 per cent of the total.
Recently, photo-sharing platform Instagram announced it would be banning graphic images of self-harm on its site.
The social network’s head Adam Mosseri said the firm recognised it “needs to do more to protect the most vulnerable in our community”.
Suicide rates in Wigan are slightly above the national average. Between 2015 and 2017, 96 people took their own lives in the borough, at a rate of 11 per 100,000. The English average was 10 per 100,000.
Prof Kate Ardern, director for public health at Wigan Council, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our residents is something that is really important to us and we’re extremely keen to raise awareness around this.
“We understand that this is an extremely sensitive topic and every single person is different, however, through our #TogetherWeCan campaign, we are committed to highlighting different avenues of support available across the borough and the country.
“Wigan borough is not unique in having to address this very challenging issue and neighbouring areas like St. Helens and Warrington are in a similar situation.
“However, it’s important to note that there are a multitude of factors as to why a person may engage with services about their mental health, including the amount of awareness that has been raised across the country in recent months.
"We have lots of health champions across the borough who dedicate their time to support people with a number of different things, and have a huge impact on the lives of our residents."
Growing numbers of Wigan parents are having to come to terms with the knowledge their children are self- harming.
Whatever your relationship to a child, discovering they’re self-harming will inevitably have a big emotional effect on you. But however it makes you feel, it’s very important that you stay calm and let them know that you’re there to help and support them.
Try not to jump to immediate conclusions or to find instant solutions. And never give the impression that their self-harming has created a big problem for you.
In recent days Instagram has announced that it will ban all graphic self-harm images as part of a series of changes made in response to the death of teenager Molly Russell.
The photo-sharing platform made the decision – which critics said was long overdue – in response to a public anger over the suicide of the 14-year-old girl, whose Instagram account contained distressing material about depression and suicide.
After growing pressure the social network’s head Adam Mosseri admitted that the company had not done enough and said that explicit imagery of self-harm would no longer be allowed on the site.
He said: “We are not where we need to be on self-harm and suicide, and we need to do more to protect the most vulnerable.
“We will get better and we are committed to finding and removing this content at scale.”
The move follows significant disquiet over Molly’s death. Her father Ian Russell said he believed Instagram was partly to blame.
The family found material relating to depression and suicide when they looked at her account after her death.
Instagram announced a range of further measures, including the removal of non-graphic images of self-harm from the most visible parts of its app and website, which appeared designed to draw a line under what has become a reputational crisis for the brand and its parent company Facebook.
But critics said the changes should have already been made and remained sceptical they would be enough to tackle a problem that some said has grown unchecked for 10 years.
The NSPCC said Instagram had taken an important step, but that social networks were still falling short and that legislation would be necessary.
Chief executive Peter Wanless said: “It should never have taken the death of Molly for Instagram to act.
“Over the last decade, social networks have proven over and over that they won’t do enough.”
Experts say it is important to remember that the severity of the injuries doesn’t reflect the young person’s suffering.
Something has caused them to self-harm – so it’s always helpful to be sensitive. Saying things such as “the injuries aren’t that bad” or “what have you done to yourself?” could make things worse.
Try not to take it personally or blame yourself either. Just concentrate on showing you understand and want to help.
If your child wants to talk about their self-harm and why they’re doing it, sit down and listen. If they’re finding it hard to speak to you face-to-face then why not suggest they put their thoughts into an email or letter instead?
If there’s another adult who’s close to them they might want to talk to them instead.
Try to get to the bottom of what makes your child start to self-harm and think about how triggers can be avoided.
If you think these might be linked to time they spend on the internet, take a look at the online safety advice for parents.
Addressing the causes is going to be more effective than removing the methods of self-harm like scissors or razors because anyone who really wants to hurt themselves is always going to find a way.
Tell the child that you understand that self-harm helps them to cope but that this is only a temporary relief. Explain that you want to help them with the problems that make them want to hurt themselves so that they can feel happier in the long run.
And see if you can help them find other ways to cope.
Your instinct might be to constantly keep your eye on your child, and that’s understandable. But by giving them their own space you’ll help build up their confidence and trust. Try to find a balance between monitoring what they’re doing and respecting their privacy.
It is important to make sure that if they’re harming themselves that they are cleaning and caring for any injuries effectively.
Sometimes it’s possible to have an agreement with the child where they come and tell you when they have self-harmed. You should agree not to react negatively but to both talk about it without any expectations on either side.
If they have any current wounds that require medical attention then do not delay going to the hospital.
Having the right support behind you is vital and there are plenty of people who can help.
Your child’s school
Self-harm is more and more common so your child’s school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families. They will probably also have a school counsellor or another member of staff that your child trusts and can go to during the day if they feel like they’re in danger of hurting themselves.
Your first step should be to speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school. Then take it from there.
Your child’s GP
The family doctor can help in a few ways. They can listen – if your child’s willing to talk to them – as well as treating injuries and giving medical advice. They could also refer your child for specialist help if they need it.
You can call our experienced counsellors whenever you need to on 0808 800 5000. They’re used to dealing with the effects of self-harm and your call can be made anonymously.
Childline has trained counsellors who can help your child to talk about the emotions they may be feeling and which may be their triggers to self-harm. It’s a 24/7 service that can be reached on 0800 1111.