As a mental health practitioner who specializes in helping adolescents overcome Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI), I was appalled to read of an Okanagan/Skaha School District 67 School Board ruling “ordering a grade-nine student to wear long sleeves at all times to cover scars”. It is short-sighted and puritanical actions like this that continue to vilify those struggling with mental health issues, resulting in those who need help being fearful of reaching out for it. On the flip-side, I am heartened by the wise and outspokenness of the students who are standing up to this repulsive action.
NSSI is a process mostly used to counter overwhelming emotional and physical distress and only ‘works’ for 16.9% of the population. A smaller percentage use it to escape feelings of dissociation or depersonalization; feeling numb physically and emotionally. Most importantly, 50% use it to avoid suicide, so in many cases NSSI is the only thing keeping them alive.
NSSI is NOT ‘contagious’. In her longitudinal study of self-injury, Dr Mary Kay Nixon of the University of Victoria found that 72% of adolescents who self-injure believe they came up with the idea on their own, while under 10% learned of it through friends, family or television.
Mental health issues are one of the largest crises our society faces today, with 25% of children and adolescents developing an anxiety or mood disorder in their school years; 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being sexually abused before they graduate high school and the resultant post-traumatic symptoms that go with it.
Our school board needs to wake up to the fact that right now among the 4000+ population of their students between the ages of 12-18 years, 680 are engaging in NSSI and will do so for an average of 21 months; 286 will continue into adulthood and 8 will complete suicide within 15 years of the onset of self-injury. Only an open dialogue without shame or judgement can help these students come forward to ask for the help they may need.
We look to our educational authorities such as SD 67 to provide education based on current and best practice; to be leaders in the field of helping our young people navigate life; to nurture and promote inclusivity amongst our student population. Certainly not to vilify and shame a young woman for doing her best to cope. I applaud the students who are leading the charge to change the outdated and harmful attitudes of SD 67 administrators, and remind them of the words of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead;
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S - www.interiorcounselling.com