Self-mutilation a worry

Psychiatrist calls on guardians to keep an eye out for kids inflicting wounds on themselves

A psychiatrist is concerned about the number of abused children in Barbados who are mutilating themselves.

Dr Shirley Alleyne spoke about the problem at the opening of a two-day symposium on student sexual abuse at Hilton Barbados Resort this morning.

She was speaking on the topic Symptoms Of Sexual Abuse In Secondary School Students, when she revealed about three quarter of her patients who engaged in self-mutilation were victims of various kinds of abuse.

“You can sometimes see physical signs or physical abnormalities, but . . . you have to be looking for them. So the most frequent ones that I would see, to the point where I almost routinely would look at the arms of young people who come into my office, is cutting. There is a lot of cutting, and invariably, maybe 75 per cent of children who I see signs of some self-mutilation on, when I ask, there’s been a history of abuse,” Alleyne said.

And most times, she added, the abuse in those cases was sexual in nature.

Alleyne suggested that people who deal with children should keep their eyes out for problems like this.

She identified, as other signs, a change in students’ behaviour.

“You can get changes in the way the child interacts, either angry outbursts, withdrawal and sadness, self-injury, in some case you get suicide attempts. What we know is that persons who have experienced child sexual abuse are much more likely to develop . . . major depressive disorders and at an earlier age,” adding that they were more likely to commit suicide.

The child psychiatrist said victims of child abuse were also at a much higher risk of developing eating disorders and engaging in alcohol abuse.

“What we know is that alcohol is supposed to be the greatest shame dissolver. So alcohol oft-times becomes the drug of use to dissolve some of the feelings of shame and guilt,” Alleyne said, adding that abused children often did a lot of self-medicating.

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