UAE doctors worried by 'trendy' self harming videos and rise in cases

School and social pressures also listed as likely causes

Carolyn is a Clinical Social Worker and CBT therapist at Camali Clinic.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: Shireena Al Nowais
Section: Shorthand NA

Doctors have expressed alarm over the number of young people they are seeing self-harming, saying that websites and blogs that promote the practise are partly to blame.

Among some groups of friends, self harm has become normalised, with pupils wearing short sleeves and bearing scars, they said.

“There are whole websites dedicated to self-harming. There are YouTube sensations that are solely dedicated to this," said Dr Candice Render, director of Rehabilitation Services at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology (ACPN) in Abu Dhabi.

"Unfortunately, it is a little bit more accepted [these days].

"Some kids used to hide it but some will wear short sleeves and are not worried that the scars will show."

In some young people "it is a cry for help, but it can be a trendy thing".

“This cutting can lead to accidental suicide because it is not just cutting, it is like taking medication and binge drinking – eventually you will cut deep enough," she said.

There are no publicly-available figures showing admissions or outpatient visits for government or private hospitals.

But anecdotally doctors say they are seeing a rise, which mirrors other developed countries.

Last year, Britain's NHS reported a “shocking” 42 per cent increase over 10 years in the number of under 18 girls who needed hospital treatment for self-harm.


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“When someone knows that their friend is cutting or self-harming, they are more likely to engage in self-harming. I do see that trend,” said Dr Render.

At Maudsley Abu Dhabi, a specialist adolescent unit, up to 20 per cent of their patients have said they self-harm.

Dr Khaled Kadry, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, said “we have seen particularly in the younger generation a rise in people who self harm.”

“I don’t have statistics, and they are usually under reported, but we are seeing a lot more from the Emirati population presenting with it," he said.

"When we started, I didn’t see anyone talk about self-harm."

Dr Kadry sees around 40 to 50 new patients a month below the age of 18. Twenty per cent of those self harm.

“The youngest we have seen is 11 years old," he said.

In Dubai, Carolyn Yaffe, a counsellor at Camali Clinic, has also seen a rise among young children.

"Self-harming is often a way for them to relive pain unfortunately – it is a very dangerous and unhealthy coping mechanism.

“It is very hard to pinpoint on why a young person is self-harming.

"There could be so many reasons, but I think there is so much academic and social pressure on young children in schools and sometimes depending on their personality, these young children can be very perfectionistic. So it can cause a lot of anxiety and a lot of depression and this is where this unhealthy coping mechanism comes in.”

Al Ain Hospital is currently treating a young Emirati boy who had locked himself in a school bathroom and slashed his wrists. He is twelve years old.

Dr Ghanem Al Hassani, consultant psychiatrist at Al Ain Hospital, said he recognised the trend seen by private clinics.

“Self harming is becoming very common in young children. We are aware of the problem,” he said.

He too blamed social media accounts and websites run by self-harmers that effective promote the practise.

“There are dozens of websites who teach young children how to cut themselves, so now any child who can access the internet and has a sharp device can do it.

"Some children do it because all their friends are doing it and they think it is cool and for others it is due to a mental health problem.

"In both cases, it is maladaptive behaviour and, although we do know that the purpose of the self harm is not suicide, just because so many people are doing it and doing it for the wrong reasons, we worry that they might seriously harm or injure themselves.

"Self harming is a fad," he said.

Dr Al Hassani said that parents should always be aware of what websites their children visit.

With the young Emirati boy, it was the school that reported the problem to the hospital, he said, not the parents.

He said it was important for parents to talk to their children and be aware of any behavioural changes.

“On many occasions, self-harming is a scream for attention. Children are bullied at school and have no one to talk to or they are unloved and uncared for. Parents need to be aware of this and have to communicate and talk to their children.”