by Andre Yeo
SOME people ask her why she has a bar code on her arm.
Who can blame them when there are more than 100 cuts on it?
Self-mutilation is not a new phenomenon, but rising numbers have got counsellors worried.
In 2001, when The New Paper reported on self-mutilation, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had said the numbers were not alarming.
But counsellors now say they are seeing more of such cases.
And the MOE has introduced a course on managing self-mutilation.
Last month, it put up a tender on the government tender website Gebiz inviting experts to conduct the course.
Full-time school counsellors from primary schools up to tertiary institutions will be taught to understand self-mutilation and its causes, the link between it and suicide, and how to intervene when they spot potential cases.
The course is slated to begin next March.
Bartender Yamuna Segaran, 19, began self-mutilating when she was 13.
She was stressed by school work and family problems.
She started experimenting after seeing a male classmate do it and was curious whether it would really relieve her stress.
It began a six-year downward spiral that turned her body into a human canvas of abuse.
Protected, but stressed
Speaking to The New Paper at her landed home in the Upper Serangoon Road area, she said that being the only girl of three siblings meant that her parents paid her special attention and ended up being over-protective.
This led to her feeling stressed and she would cut herself at home and find herself unable to stop doing it.
She said: 'I got addicted to the pain. I can't explain why I like the pain.'
Ms Yamuna had a boyfriend, but said their relationship was rocky.
Admitting she was an emotional person who took things too seriously, she turned to making cuts on her left arm and across her chest.
Every time she felt stressed, she would slash herself over the old cuts.
She said: 'I would cut over the same wound because I would not know where I was cutting.
'When I washed my arm, I felt the real pain and that was when I would ask myself, 'Why did I do it?'
When she showed The New Paper her arm, it resembled a bar code with thin cuts running down her arm.
Said Ms Yamuna: 'It does not sound nice when everywhere I go, people ask me how come I have a bar code on my arm.
'I get lots of stares in public and I have heard parents tell their children, 'Next time, I don't want to see you like that. Look at her.'
In an e-mail reply, MOE's spokesman said that self-mutilation was among challenging issues some students might face during their adolescent years.
She said the act involved cutting or hitting oneself, generally resulting in superficial body injuries.
She added: 'International research findings have shown that people who self-mutilate generally do it without the intent to end their lives.
'For most of them, self-mutilation is a way to cope with their emotional difficulties and to 'release' pent-up feelings.'
She said managing self-mutilation was one of the courses to help counsellors handle issues that students may experience.
'With the training, school counsellors will be better equipped to understand the emotional struggles which their charges are going through and learn how to apply the appropriate strategies to help students struggling with such issues,' she said.
MOE did not say how many cases of self-mutilation they had seen recently.
Ms Yamuna's self-mutilation caused a rift between her and her parents.
On one occasion last year, her mother called the Nulife Care and Counselling Services in Ang Mo Kio for help.
The centre's founder, Ms Sheena Jebal, 35, confirmed Ms Yamuna's story.
Ms Sheena said she rushed to their home and found a girl wanting to end her life.
Her mother had called the police and four officers in two police cars arrived and arrested her.
She was later sent to the Institute of Mental Health for observation and attended 10 counselling sessions with Ms Sheena.
She said: 'There are so many cuts on her body you would not know where they start and where they end.'
Ms Sheena added that her seven-year-old centre used to see only one or two such cases a year. But this year, it has seen nine children aged 9 to 17 with self-inflicted wounds.
She said they did it to release pent-up anger and emotions.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, has been a psychologist-counsellor for 18years.
She said that five years ago, the society saw one self-mutilation case every month or every two months. It now sees one case every week and it is getting them worried.
Girls more at risk
She said two out of every three children who came to them with self-mutilation were girls. This was probably because girls are more emotional than boys.
Psychologist Geraldine Tan, 30, from the Centre for Effective Living, also said she was seeing more self-mutilation cases.
She now sees 10 new cases every year.
On the rising numbers, she explained: 'It's one of the easiest ways of venting their emotions.
'Teens do it because it's a fad, when they see one of their friends doing it and find it exciting.'
Ms Yamuna admitted it was tough giving it up. She last did it two months ago.
She said that to help her avoid doing it, she had tattoos done.
She now feels self-mutilation did not help solve her problems, but only added to them.
Said Ms Yamuna: 'I have lost many job opportunities, like at a cooking school and at hotels because of my scars. I also can't be an air stewardess, which was my ambition.
'It may seem as if your problems have gone after cutting yourself, but they are still there. And you end up with ugly scars.
'It's not worth it.'
Call for help
- Singapore Children's Society: 62531124
- Nulife Care and Counselling Services: 63008706
- Centre for Effective Living: 63383383