In an article in the Herald Sun Monday July 10, 2020, columnist Andrew Bolt detailed the number of “young Victorians turning up to hospital after trying to stab, poison or otherwise hurt themselves is up 33 per cent”. Later, he wrote that “researchers at Sheffield and Loughborough universities estimate 21,000 people in Britain died not of the virus but the lockdown”.
So why are these young people so distraught as to self-harm? And are the people supposedly dying in lockdown on their own? Obviously, I don’t have definitive answers, but I can only assume these young people, mostly under-18 years, are living at home with a parent/s and other siblings. I wanted to write a letter to the Herald Sun about the self-harm, but realised highlighting some sense of family problem would be too negative for publication. Are their families’ single-parent? Physically or psychologically violent? Or have these kids been so protected, even spoilt, they have no strength to draw on in these terrible times?
Helicopter parents have been written about for several years now, along with many media articles asserting young people have no resilience because these parents stopped them taking even the slightest risk such as climbing a tree. Moreover, they’ve also been raised to believe they can be exactly what they want and/or do anything they want. In this perspective, it doesn’t seem surprising that they are self-harming for attention and sadly perhaps, as a cry for help. Blaming the lockdown, as Bolt implies, is I believe a digression from a more pertinent and significant problem that parents themselves are unable to cope with lockdown without anxiety and stress. Indeed, calls to mental health agencies across the country have skyrocketed, with some professionals like Prof Patrick McGorry, predicting mental health problems caused by the virus crisis will be worse than the virus itself. Federal and state governments, including Victoria, have assigned millions of dollars for mental health care now and in the foreseeable future.
Certainly, probably thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of parents are doing it tough; they may have lost their jobs, can’t pay the mortgage and put food on the table, while others have to juggle working from home, supervising home schooling and cooking, cleaning and all manner of domestic duties. Tempers can fray even in the most caring and loving families. The children too often cop the consequences, finding it difficult to withstand the pressure and stress of a different, family dynamic. Conflict may well be inevitable, with children not receiving the attention and care they need, if they ever did, given so many families have both parents working full-time and struggle to provide quality time with their kids. No wonder now in lockdown these kids are self-harming; maybe as a last ditch attempt to receive the care they so desperately need.
While I believe having children is the hardest and most challenging thing a person will undertake, they must accept responsibility for their kids’ self-harm, exacerbated of course by lockdown, but maybe that’s just a convenient and less confronting excuse for their kids’ problems.
I’m unsure whether anyone will ever know with certainty whether it’s lockdown that’s actually killing people as it can take decades to develop a strength of resolve, fortitude and positive mental attitude that’s implicit in coping with lockdown, in families and/or alone. How to deal with adversity beyond one’s own control is probably something thousands of people have never experienced, let alone countenanced, tragically for some, currently paying the price of living without hardship or heartache throughout their lives.
For these young people who are self-harming, it seems pertinent that they understand a sense of hope; an ability to appreciate being alive and well for their own sake, without fringe benefits or expected adulation. Parents should be instilling the notion that life is precious and that this time is temporary, setting an example of care towards themselves and each other. Slopping around at home in PJs and dressing-gown, filling their stomachs with unhealthy, junk take-away food, and complaining about their impossible schedules, only impact theirs kids detrimentally, if not despairingly.
Maybe one particularly unpalatable truth could be that while Victoria is a state of disaster with the virus out of control, so too are many families. The cover-up has been uncovered, and while Victorians now have to wear mandatory masks, their hitherto other intangible masks have been ripped off to reveal a deeply troubling reality behind closed doors in suburbia. One can’t just blame lockdown for this perilous trend.
The headline on the Bolt article “Lockdown policy’s collateral damage” fails to acknowledge this reality, surfacing now as other excuses become superfluous. Whether social commentators want to admit it, families must accept responsibility for their children’s self-harming behaviour, however distressing and disturbing that is. Hiding behind lockdown ironically, must no longer suffice. People in the UK dying of lockdown have seemingly never also nurtured self-reliance, resilience and a hopeful perspective, succumbing to despair and depression without rejoicing in life itself as light at the end of the tunnel.