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What good reason for the blood?

As if the revelation of a reckless and non-safety-practising generation wasn’t shocking enough –– as it pertains to sexual risk behaviours and rising levels in HIV infection among our young people –– Senator Harry Husbands would throw us into deeper consternation and heavy-heartedness.

After all, with the challenges of infection by the HIV virus, we can mitigate any dire consequences to a great degree with antiretroviral drugs –– if infection does not go unrecognized in the first place, or untreated because of delay through social and economic factors like poverty, lack of access to health care, stigma or plain ignorance.

This new social ill, just as daring as the HIV virus, seems far more self-defeating and bloody messy. Senator Husbands has told of how he stumbled across this almost exclusive practice among North American white teenagers which has somehow found itself to his amazement right here among our average Barbadian home youth. Self-cutting, they call it.

The Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education told the Senate on Monday that he was shocked to learn that there were “young people in our schools cutting themselves”.

Added the former teacher himself: “And it is more prevalent –– although there are some boys –– among girls . . . . And I usually consider that self-cutting was a white American thing that we saw on television, not realizing that right here in Barbados this was an issue.”

This in our schools now, in addition to “increased sexual activity, increased drug use . . . and community violence”?!!!

Clearly a young schoolgirl doing herself such self-harm is in need of serious and urgent counselling.

We understand, from amidst the quite complicated explanation for this kind of psychological disorder, that self-cutting is impulsive, seemingly providing instant, though temporary, relief from stress. What is so trying among our adolescents that they could be driven to such extremes of self-mutilation for easement?

It is said some young women engage in this unbelievable conduct to stop bad feelings, to get attention, to avoid the unpleasant, to alleviate symptoms of anger, anxiety, depression, or “to feel something, even if it is pain”.

In the light of this, we may assume adolescents who so harm themselves are having difficulty coping with their environment, probably family, and life generally, and may not be too far removed from grave mental illness, sprung from a sense of hopelessness, perhaps in respect of bullying –– which some of us would downplay –– and or even conflict in respect of sexual abuse or self-orientation.

Senator Husbands suggests, after alarming us, that Government’s student services may have a handle on the problem with its individual counselling, family counselling and psychological evaluations. While this suite of remedies may be of some resolve, it does not necessarily identify for us the cause or causes of this crude conduct among our children. It seems to get to the heart of this frighteningly new problem we need more than the evaluation.

And how do we surely separate self-cutting from attempted suicide? It seems as there might be a colliding of suicide protocols and self-cutting episodic management.

In the North American culture, of which Senator Husbands spoke, the long-term prognosis for adolescents with self-cutting behaviours, as we understand it, is quite poor, because such conduct or practice is extremely difficult to treat. And, self-cutting youth are resistant to change of habit.

We take some comfort, however, in the senator’s army of counsellors and their readiness to stem what could become a swelling tide, though we shiver at his thought that if they can’t find a way of assisting our young self-cutting folk, “we are not going to be able to sleep at night”.

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