SELF-HARM LIFELINE I started slashing my arms at 11 but a teen centre saved my life and now I help others who self harm

Mental health charity WISH was a lifeline for Isobel after she began cutting her arms with a razor everyday

18 December 2018 - 10:45

WHEN she was just 11, Isobel Pollard locked herself in a toilet at her primary school and cut herself for the first time.

She didn’t really fit in with her classmates and was bullied for being chubby — and, somehow, self-harming seemed to her to be the answer.

Now 22, Isobel says: “I don’t know where I got the idea to hurt myself. I just remember hiding away in the girls’ bathroom and doing it for the first time. It gave me a moment’s relief from all the pain I was feeling.

“I had a lot of confidence issues, growing up. I always ‘the chubby friend’. I was never happy with how I looked. I was bullied.

“I found it hard to fit in. A lot of the girls were very cliquey and two-faced.

“That just wasn’t me. I’m very honest, open and trusting.”

Self-harm is a growing epidemic in Britain, with nearly a quarter of 14-year-old girls saying they have done it, according to a shocking report released in August this year by The Children’s Society.

It quickly became an addiction for Isobel and, by the time she moved to secondary school, she was hurting herself every night.

She says: “I was buying cheap razors. For a good two years, I was hurting myself every day.

“I’d hide in my bedroom and do it after school."

 She says she hurt herself every day for two years, and felt it became an addiction by the time she moved to secondary school
Dan Jones
She says she hurt herself every day for two years, and felt it became an addiction by the time she moved to secondary school

It was two long years before anyone else realised what was going on.

Isobel adds: “We were out for dinner one night when I was 13 and one of the sleeves rolled up.

“My mum noticed my arm in the middle of the restaurant. I ran off to the bathroom and locked myself in the toilet and I remember my mum outside pleading with me to talk to her. I felt so ashamed.”

When the youngster finally confided in mum Lorraine Livings, 51, and dad Stephen Pollard, 52, she was put in touch with a school counsellor.

The teenager was also referred to her local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Isobel, of Edgware, North London, says of her struggle to beat her habit: “We had a calendar in the kitchen and Mum and I would tick off every day.

"It was a case of, ‘Can I get through this day without hurting myself?’ It was very hard for me and for my parents but they both learnt to pick up on my moods.

“They knew if I was really, really hyper that soon afterwards I’d crash.

“Mum and Dad went above and beyond to understand what I was going through.

“My dad even volunteered with the Samaritans so he could try to better understand and support me. I owe them so much.”

Isobel did not gel with her counsellor at the mental health service, but then a charity called The WISH Centre took a few assemblies at her school and she was referred to them.

The WISH Centre is a small London-based charity that aims to prevent self-harm, abuse and exploitation of children.

 She found the WISH Centre - a London based charity that prevents self-harm as well as abuse and the exploitation of young people
 
She found the WISH Centre - a London based charity that prevents self-harm as well as abuse and the exploitation of young people

It uses a peer mentor method, in which girls support each other, and a recent report found it had an 80 to 90 per cent success rate.

Isobel says: “I was 13 when I first when to the centre and I was absolutely terrified.

“I’d had a bad experience with other girls’ at school, so going into a room full of girls and them knowing something about me that I’d been trying to hide for so long, it was really difficult.

“I was immediately surprised, first of all by the sheer number of people that were there. I couldn’t believe there were so many girls all feeling the same way as I did. But I was also surprised by the diversity.

“There were people who to look at you would never think were hurting themselves.”

Isobel would meet with the girls’ group every week, as well as having regular sessions with a counsellor.

She says: “As much as psychiatrists and doctors can help, being able to talk to people who had lived through similar experiences was a huge support.

“I’d often feel a deep sense of self-loathing. You can’t escape it, it’s in your own head.

“It’s difficult to explain to other people and those who haven’t been through it would say, ‘What has happened to make you feel like this?’ But often nothing has happened. You just crash.

“These people could relate to me. Sometimes it was just a hug, or a certain look of understanding, it made me feel like I was safe.”

Despite this, during her treatment Isobel contemplated suicide.

She recalls: “I was in my bedroom, sobbing with tears, and I was ready to do something really stupid.

“It’s difficult to explain to other people and those who haven’t been through it would say, ‘What has happened to make you feel like this?’ But often nothing has happened. You just crash.

“These people could relate to me. Sometimes it was just a hug, or a certain look of understanding, it made me feel like I was safe.”

Despite this, during her treatment Isobel contemplated suicide.

She recalls: “I was in my bedroom, sobbing with tears, and I was ready to do something really stupid.

“Life just didn’t feel worth living any more. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to speak to someone. I was scared to reach out.

“But I knew the girls from the group would understand.

“We had a What’s App group and around 11pm I sent a message saying ‘Is anyone up? I’m really struggling and I need to talk to someone. I’m really sorry if I’m bugging you’.

All of the girls reached out to me. They stayed on the phone with me until they knew I was safe.

“They gave me hotline numbers to call. They checked up on me throughout the night, and were chatting to me until 3am.

“They all checked in on me the next day. It made me feel like someone cared when I didn’t really care about myself.

“The WISH Centre has saved my life on more than one occasion.”

Aged 15, Isobel was diagnosed with clinical depression. She continued to visit the centre until she left school.

She started to self-harm less and less and, by the time she was 19, she had stopped.

She now works as a special needs teaching assistant at a primary school — but she is also a peer mentor for the charity as she wants to help other troubled young girls.

Isobel says: “It hurt to know so many people were feeling these terrible feelings. If I can try to prevent it, then I’d do anything.

“I never thought my life would have such a purpose. If I can stop people hurting themselves, committing suicide or even just making them feel better for one night, then my life has value.

“Self-harm has become a huge problem in our society.

“I want to break the stigma and make people realise it is OK to talk about it.

“My biggest advice to anyone going through the same is to ask for help when you need it, don’t be afraid. It could be the difference between life and death.”

Unique support groups

THE WISH Centre for young people with experience of self-harm is the only service of its kind in the country.

It has two centres – in Harrow, North West London, and Merton, South West London – but would like to roll out its one-to-one counselling and peer group sessions across the UK.

Director Rowena Jaber explains: “Our peer support groups are unique as they provide a space where young people have time to talk in a safe environment.”

Much of its funding comes from donations, grants and sources such as Comic Relief and BBC Children In Need.

A report by The Centre for Mental Health says the centre has shown “considerable success in helping young people turn their lives around”.

It adds: “Part of its success is it is attractive to young people and engages with them.”

The number of people in the boroughs turning up at hospital A&E departments due to self-harm has reduced and recovery rates are estimated to be between 80 and 90 per cent above the national average.

 

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