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Headteachers are reporting a rise in self-harm – here’s how to spot warning signs of those that might be at risk

With students increasingly feeling high pressure from expectations of academic achievement, teamed with the pressures of the ever-growing digital world, self-harm has become a considerable concern for schools and teachers. In fact, our research has revealed that 62% of headteachers believe there has been a rise in cases of students wanting to self-harm or feeling as if they can’t continue.

Our Online Safety Expert, Adele Abbiss, provides advice on how schools, colleges and teachers can spot the early warning signs of potentially vulnerable pupils.

The root of the problem

When questioned as to what headteachers believe is behind the worrying trend, 58% cited the impact of social media, while 55% believed cyberbullying was a contributing factor, and 45% and noted the readily accessible online content promoting self-harm.

Additional factors included exam pressure (37%), poor digital wellbeing (32%), and a comparison culture promoting unrealistic body image expectations (29%).

With such emphasis now placed on exam grades, students are increasingly feeling pressure both in and out of the classroom to achieve academic success. But the reality is students can only reach the best of their ability and for some this may lead to feelings of inadequacy.

Team this with the pressures created from the online space, and these feelings of inadequacy can integrate into other aspects of their lives, from the way they look to the activities they do.

Understanding the new ways students cope with feelings

Our research also uncovered that 58% of young people admit to having a bad experience online at least once every week. And when asked how students cope with their feelings following these experiences, less than half admitted they would feel comfortable turning to their parents, while only 10% admitted they would turn to a teacher.

In contrast, 79% of headteachers believed that students would approach themselves or another member of teaching staff if they felt concerned about a negative online experience, exposing a worrying disjoint between pupils and teachers.

When reporting their chosen methods to deal with their feelings, 31% of students admitted they would talk to their friends online in order to feel better. Other emerging trends included writing their thoughts down on the computer, turning to social media, and searching online for others that feel the same way.

With so few students opting to confide to teachers, it’s important that school leaders and teaching staff are fully equipped to be able to spot the signs of self-harm so that the issue can be treated at the earliest stage possible.

Spotting the risks

It can be difficult for teachers to spot the subtle signs of self-harm within their classes. Some signs that teachers should look out for that could indicate a vulnerable pupil include; unexplained injuries, wearing excessive clothing even during warm weather or exercise, unexplained changes in behaviour, changes to weight, or eating small or excessive amounts at mealtimes.

However, another way in which schools can pick up signs a child may be at risk of self-harm is by looking for digital behaviour that may show signs of vulnerability. Children may start to show indicators that they might be developing a problem through digital activity including; internet searches about self-harm and suicide, discussions on online chat or forums, looking at social media sites that glamorise self-harm and suicide, or expressing self-hate language in text documents.

The role of digital safeguard monitoring

Through effective filtering and monitoring tools, software providers can not only help to prevent children and young people from accessing potentially harmful material in the first place, but can also send risks to the school designated safeguarding lead if a student has shown any alarming signs, such as attempting to access harmful material, or typing out alarming search terms.

Sometimes these alerts may even appear from concerned peers writing to each other or looking at ways to help a friend. When a DSL is alerted, they can intervene and start to put measures in place to support a student. Sometimes, the alerts that are created may be time critical. For example an expressed desire to self-harm. However a best practice digital monitoring system will work in real-time so that a DSL is informed immediately and is able to act instantly to ensure the safeguarding of the student.

For further in-depth information about the role of digital monitoring, how it can help schools to help students, and how it can be successfully integrated into your schools existing safeguarding strategy, download our free whitepaper ‘A School’s Complete Guide to Active Monitoring’ linked below.

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