SELF-HARM: SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
This is part of our series on the self.
Between 14-24% of teenagers and young adults harm themselves by cutting, burning, hair-pulling and stabbing things under their skin.
They do this in an effort to demonstrate to a seemingly uncaring world that they are suffering inside.
The lead author of the study is Stephen Lewis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in southern Ontario.
His team found that an alarming percentage of young people injure themselves deliberately and that many of these people watch self-harm videos on You Tube. There, either they find comfort in knowing they are not alone in their self-abusive practice or they learn how to do it.
It happens a lot at colleges and universities.
You’d think that all these kids would be happy: studying, partying, getting a huge opportunity that most people in the world don’t get—to better themselves with education–so they can have meaningful jobs and lives.
Even such well-respected and excellent universities such as Cornell and Princeton have done studies that alarmed the administration because they found that one in five students was a self-harmer. The study was repeated throughout the United States. Students in Canadian colleges suffer the same kinds of injuries.
THE COLLEGE PROBLEM
Colleges and universities have a tripartite problem with self-abusers.
They don’t have the skills, the staff, the expertise, the mandate or the time to deal with problems like this. And, to a degree, you have to sympathize. They are colleges, not hospitals, although you might want to rethink that if you’ve spoken to as many students as I (or other teachers and professors) have.
2. Second, there is the question of personal freedom and privacy. Most colleges would be alarmed if they were aware that their professors knew that their students had personal, psychological, or emotional problems.
Professors are not supposed to discuss these things with students. They are supposed to refer the students to counseling. That’s the right thing, of course, in an ideal world but if you teach English or psychology you are going to get students who open up and tell you about their personal lives.
There is no avoiding it and it is cruel and inhumane to dismiss the students and their problems because you are not officially supposed to know these problems exist.
This is a difficult area to be sure: how to, or whether to, intrude on a person’s privacy. These cases involve self-harm but the same conditions are present in situations where a person might harm others.
There are cases of college/university staffs being aware (perhaps only vaguely or anecdotally) of the mental state of some students but since the students have done nothing wrong or illegal, there is little an institution can do. Then you wind up with an incident such as the killings at the University of Virginia.
3. Third, most colleges don’t have the money to cope with this stuff.
DO THE VIDEOS TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO DO THIS?
The less imaginative young people might learn how to harm themselves from the videos. Others might get the idea to cut themselves. Some may take comfort in them (sadly) because they see they are not alone in the practice. Some people go to self-abuse chat rooms but the videos are more graphic, and more immediate in their instructional effect. The researchers are looking at this.
POSITIVE NOTES (FALSE AND REAL)
Some of the young viewers feel (falsely) positive about seeing the videos because they see that they are not alone in their anguish and their expression of it. It offers them some transitory positive feeling.
One good thing might come out of the You Tube videos. It produced the study and it (and others like it) may light the fire of awareness in the general population.
Don’t hold your breath.
These problems come from depression and low self-esteem which is rampant in our youth. Clinical psychologist Claire Crooks says this low self-esteem is often so deep it that it prompts feelings of a desire to be punished in the young people. Why? Several reasons.
These kids are so filled with self-doubt, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and a feeling of not belonging that they are losing themselves at an age and time when they should be just discovering themselves.
SELF-KNOWLEDGE COLLEGE AND THE SELF
My focus at Self-Knowledge College and here at The Daley Post is on self-knowledge. I maintain that self-knowledge is the key to personal, academic and professional suc cess. But what if what you think you know about yourself leads you to harm yourself?
On the other hand, Prof. Crooks says,
“Don’t bother asking (a child) why he’s doing it. He likely won’t be able to answer.”
The kind of self-knowledge these young people have is fraudulent. It is a misreading of their true worth and value and an almost total ignorance of their gifts and abilities.
Real self-knowledge will lead the young people to see that they are more valuable than they currently think and feel they are. Getting them to that real self-knowledge is obviously going to be a problem.
For a continuing discussion of the self, self-knowledge, and your place in the world–read The Daley Post.
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