Parents of self-harming youngsters need support too

Studies have shown that non-suicidal self-harm is in fact a major predictor of subsequent suicidal behaviour ("Rising trend of self-harm among the young"; Monday).

Self-harm is a desperate attempt by a person to cope with intense emotional distress.

Often, it is also symptomatic of suffering at a relational level: interpersonal relationships in and/or outside the home.

The good news, backed by research, is that having a positive relationship with one's parents can be effective in reducing suicide risk.

Yet, disaffection between such youngsters and their parents appears to be a significant contributor to distress among the young - as the Samaritans of Singapore suicide prevention agency's report in July 2014 noted.

Consequently, and particularly in cases where family relationship is the source of pain, we need to ensure that our treatment plan for the self-harming youngsters includes their parents.

Parents need our understanding and empathy. When they discover the self-harming behaviour of their offspring, they may be thrown into emotional turmoil.

Supporting parents through this trauma is the first step towards containing such family crises.

This paves the way towards helping families to learn new ways of managing differences and conflicts, repairing family bonds and reducing the pain of the young person involved.

These should be in addition to training the young in areas such as distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal skills.

Our families have become smaller and, on a daily basis, parents battle with stresses posed by their jobs and relationships, while caring for the aged and the young.

Our challenge, as a country, is how to systematically equip our parents and families with the information and skills which are relevant to the age of the children - and dispensed regularly at each stage of their development - to create security, warmth and support in the home.

Wang Yi Shing (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Parents of self-harming youngsters need support too'. Print Edition | Subscribe