More Singapore teens engaging in self-harm
Woman who had abusive childhood engaged in self-harm
She started cutting herself at 14.
It was around the time her relationship with her mother soured and her grades suffered.
Abusive adults also entered her life and made the problem worse.
Now, Jane (not her real name), 20, hopes troubled young people will fight the urge to harm themselves and not make the same mistakes she made.
More teens here are engaging in self-harm and Jane told The New Paper (TNP) why she used to do it.
She said she had changed schools six times while in primary school (because her mum kept moving home).
Still, Jane said she was a good student with good grades and vowed she would stay in one secondary school.
"But my mum moved again from Yishun to Tiong Bahru when I was in Sec 2. That meant I had to either travel a long distance to school or change school. I felt that she was selfish and needed to get her life in order," Jane said.
She said her mother stopped giving her pocket money, so she had to work part-time at Swensen's and her grades suffered.
Jane added: "I also found mathematics increasingly difficult to understand. Feeling lost and angry and unable to express myself, I started cutting with a razor blade."
It started as an impulse.
"I was silently screaming inside and cutting was totally engrossing. It was a moment where I had all the power and control," she added.
The lack of power and control was a constant theme when Jane was younger and probably led to her eventually cutting herself.
Her parent divorced when she was three.
"My father was an abusive man. He was hitting both my mother and me," she said.
At seven, her mother's then-boyfriend sexually abused her.
"I didn't know better. He told me it was natural and I believed him. It went on for a year until one day, my mum came home earlier than usual and found out. We moved out," she said.
It was when she was 13 that her mother remarried. She said her stepfather also physically hit her.
Jane added: "Failing in school and in life, I felt that I was useless. I could not make it in life. I started to harm myself when I was in Sec 2. I went from cutting to burning myself with cigarettes and was hooked on glue-sniffing and ice."
She was sent to the former Andrew and Grace Home (now known as AG Home), a shelter for troubled teenagers.
It houses teenage girls who are either juvenile delinquents, beyond parental control or victims of sexual or physical abuse.
She said she ran away from there, was caught and put in the Singapore Girls' Home.
She was remanded there for three months before moving to DaySpring in 2011, she said.
Since 2006, DaySpring has been providing voluntary welfare service to women and youth-at-risk in Singapore.
A self-funded initiative under Highpoint Community Services Association, it operates two centres: DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for abused teenage girls and DaySpring New Life Centre for unsupported pregnant women.
"I was still angry and was cutting myself the first few months at DaySpring, but Cathy (Livingston, former clinical director of DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre) was patiently counselling me and helped me get my life back," she said.
She also recalled a canoeing session when the counsellors intentionally capsized the canoes.
"The burns and cuts on my arms were so painful, I think it gave me a wake-up call," she said, adding that she quit cutting soon after.
Jane returned and worked at DaySpring months after she graduated from its programme after almost two years.
But she left after a year.
While working alone at the centre one night, one of the girls cut herself.
Said Jane: "There was so much blood. After I helped stem the bleed and bandaged her, the urge to cut myself returned. Although I didn't do it, I felt I had to get away from that environment."
Now, she is working in a childcare centre and studying to be an early childhood educator.
"My ambition is to become a child protection officer to help others who are in my kind of predicament when I was growing up.
"I want to help them cope, lend them my shoulder to cry on and protect them from abusive adults," she said.
Cutting to cope
Self-harm is not always cutting.
It includes burning, headbanging and intentionally swallowing poisonous chemicals.
Psychotherapist and counsellor at Womancare Psychological Services Cathy Livingston said self-harm is a means of expressing and dealing with internal deep distress and emotional pain.
"Many who harm themselves are experiencing anxiety, depression or have experienced trauma. They do not have healthy emotional regulation coping skills, therefore they harm themselves to cope with these feelings," she said.
Ms Livingston said self-harm releases endorphins, which compensates for the pain inside.
"But it is very temporary. The addiction probably comes from the release and distraction from the emotional pain," she said.
SIGNS OF SELF-HARM TO WATCH OUT:
- Sudden mood changes
- Easily irritable
- Unexplained cuts or bruises
- Wearing long sleeves and pants when it is really hot
- Hidden sharp objects in their possession
The trend of self-harm has become apparent in younger children, and among boys.
BY THE NUMBERS
50: Number of teens who harmed themselves in 2014 in an attempt to cope with emotional stress or frustration. The figure is up from 44 in 2013, according to data from the Singapore Children's Society.