If artist and former self-harmer Kaitlyn had her way, WA schools would not shy away from talking openly about why young overwhelmed teenagers like her ended up cutting their skin as a form of release to cope with emotional pain.
First, they would take the preventive step of holding regular classroom lessons on communicating distress and problem- solving. Then they would ensure they were geared up to help out and intervene early, with the back-up of a psychologist who could inform parents, deal with reactions of fear and criticism and unhelpful myths and direct where to get the best professional assistance.
"They have to deal with it right away," she said. "I know, the further you go into it, the harder it is to stop."
Now 20, Kaitlyn first cut her skin at the age of 13, when struggling to fit in at high school socially, falling behind academically and dealing with emerging depression. It all "built up and just got too much" and triggered three years of self-harming.
Going to great lengths to hide it, she never told anyone about her addiction to self-harm. But finally a teacher noticed the scratches and scars on her arms and friends began querying why she always wore long-sleeved tops on hot days. School staff talked to her about whether she had a problem but did not initially tell her parents.
"It is just a hard thing for people to understand," Kaitlyn said. "They think you are trying to hurt yourself more than you are or that you are really messed up.
"But it's a combination of emotional release, not being able to find the words to make people understand, and something else to focus on.
"So I just got more creative and found other ways to cover it up - like strategically placed bracelets."
Later, when her parents were informed, they stripped the family house of everything sharp and started looking for what was fuelling the behaviour.
But it was not until Kaitlyn's self-harm escalated and she was hospitalised that she finally gave in and agreed to her parents' requests to get psychological assistance to find other, healthier coping mechanisms.
What ended up working for her was to deal with the overwhelming thoughts and feelings buzzing around in her head by writing them down in a journal, creating artwork and immersing herself in community work.Kaitlyn now works as a youth adviser to headspace, the Federal Government's national youth mental health foundation.
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