November 21st, 2019

To Your Health: Know the signs and don’t be afraid to seek help

By GILLIAN SLADE on May 13, 2019.

Between 2009 and 2014 the number of girls internationally who harmed themselves and ended up in hospital, increased by 110%. For boys the increase was 35%.

The numbers in Canada are increasing too, especially in young people who are not even teenagers yet.

Deliberately cutting, burning or hitting oneself can be seen by the individual as a way to redirect their attention from the overwhelming feels of anxiety and despair to the physical pain of the self-inflicted wound.

In spite of numerous measures to stop bullying it seems to be increasing and can be completely overwhelming for young children.

You are probably aware of the 9-year-old girl in Calgary who took her own life because of bullying. Since then other parents have come forward seeking help for their children going through similar situations.

If you read international newspapers online there is a report almost daily of someone around the world who has died while in pursuit of the perfect travel photo to post on social media.

I recently listened to a podcast where a young girl described her life spinning out of control because of her Twitter account. She described being obsessed with her hair and make-up application before taking any photos of herself. She would agonizingly question what she was wearing to the point of despair. Finally she would choose an outfit, take numerous photos and spend ages trying to determine the one that showed her at her best.

Once it was posted on social media the torment continued. She would monitor how many times the photo was retweeted and any comments that were made. Even if there were no negative comments she would question why it was not attracting enough attention. She would plunge into despair, get rid of the outfit, feel the need to go and buy something else – in fact doubt herself at every turn. Her life had become a vortex of despair and she could not see a brighter future.

There are strategies to work through these challenges such as taking deep breaths and focusing attention on each breath coming in and being exhaled. It redirects attention away from thoughts of self-harm and can have a physiological benefit too.

About 50 years ago the only people we were aware of that were struggling with mental health issues were few and far between. There was also the tendency to institutionalize and medicate.

Now we are told that about half the population will experience some mental health issues before they reach middle age.

There is no doubt parents are equally overwhelmed, both working full-time, trying to run a home and care for their families. It is an enormous and challenging task.

A few generations ago there was often one stay-at-home parent who could more closely observe any changes in behaviour of the children and provide coping strategies. That has all changed.

We could all be more aware of the needs of others and ourselves and not be afraid to seek help when things are overwhelming.

You could start with a visit to your family doctor. Many physicians’ offices now have someone on staff to help with this perhaps even provide counselling.

If you are in a crisis situation you can call the Distress Centre 1-800-784-2433 or 1-877-303-2642.

Here’s to improved mental health for all of us and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at or 403-528-8635.

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