Late July and August are slow months for the media. By which it
means MPs go on holiday. The good news is that the gap in the news
agenda that they leave can be filled to powerful effect by issues
that are otherwise ignored.
One day last week The Independent gave the whole of its
front page to what it called “The hidden epidemic”. More than
170,000 people a year – mainly teenagers and young adults –
self-harm, according to figures collated for the first time by the
government’s drugs and treatment assessment body, the National
Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice).
What is telling is that the report received barely a line in any
other newspaper. Yet it describes a scandalous neglect and lack of
support for those who hurt themselves as relief from their own
despair. Self-harm is now in the top five causes of acute medical
admission to hospital.
According to Nice, half of all self-harmers are discharged without
proper assessment, many dismissed as “attention seeking”. Included
in The Independent‘s report is a photograph of Richey
Edwards, the Manic Street Preachers’ songwriter and guitarist who
disappeared and is believed to have committed suicide. It shows his
arm wounded and scarred like a carcass ready for jointing.
Yet, according to Dr Tim Kendall, co-director of the National
Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which has helped to draw up
the treatment guidelines, some attitudes to self-harmers are
appalling. “We have heard of people turning up at A&E [who] are
stitched up without anaesthetic by nurses who tell them that they
cut themselves without anaesthetic, so why should they get it now,”
That callousness seems beyond belief. Particularly after at least
two decades in which knowledge has increased about how people
manifest their innermost conflicts in their outward behaviour, for
example, in the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. Information
has even been disseminated in popular culture such as television
soaps. So those nurses in question, even if they are not inclined
to learn from a text book, might acquire a little compassion from
simply switching on their televisions.
The lack of coverage given to Nice’s report by the media does not
bode well. What’s now required is a sustained campaign to bring
proper resources to those who desperately need help to feel better
about themselves – without resorting to a razor blade.