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Covering your tracks

The impact of crime

If you’ve been a victim of a crime, or you’ve been affected by a crime that has happened to a friend or member of your family, it can take quite a while to come to terms with things.

Young boy sitting and reading.

It’s important to remember that whatever you’re feeling is okay, that things can and will get better, and that there are a lot of people who can help, and who have been through the same sort of experience as you.

Below are just some of the ways that crime can have an impact on young people. If any of these have happened to you, we can help you to find advice and support.

So why am I feeling like this?

Although everyone feels differently when they are affected by crime, a lot of people go through three main stages. The first is shock – you might be angry, confused, depressed, or just not able to believe what’s happened to you. You may even go through a stage of ‘denial’, when you tell people that you haven’t been badly affected, but really you’re just finding it difficult to admit that you’re upset about what happened.

The second stage is acceptance, when what has happened to you, and the fact that you are a victim of crime, slowly starts to ‘sink in’. The third stage is readjustment, when you get back to your usual life – although often people make some changes, to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. As you try to understand what has happened, it’s not unusual to have strange or negative thoughts, or really strong feelings such as fear and anger – even flashbacks to the crime itself.

Not everyone goes through these stages, and people who do will still have different feelings along the way; but if any of this process feels familiar to you, then you need to know you’re not alone, that the way you feel is not wrong, and that there are people who can help you.

Below are some of the other reactions that young people often have when they are a victim of crime, along with more information about how you can deal with them. If you’re experiencing any of these feelings or emotions, the best first step is to talk to an adult you can trust about how you are feeling.

I can’t sleep...

When something happens in your life that makes you worried or upset, the first thing to be affected is often your sleep. A lot of people suffer from insomnia – when you try to get to sleep, but you can’t – and unfortunately, the more tired you get, the more your body and mind can start doing some strange things. There’s some good advice on what you can do to help you sleep, and the things you should avoid doing, on the Child and Youth Health website. There are also plenty of tips on helping you to relax so that you can sleep, and ways to deal with all the thoughts that are stopping you from sleeping, online at Kidshealth.org.

I’ve lost my appetite...

It’s not unusual for anyone going through difficult or upsetting experiences to lose their appetite. But just like not sleeping, not eating properly can really damage your health, and it’s not just your body you are feeding – your mood and the way you feel is affected by what you eat or drink too.

For most people, losing your appetite is only a short-term problem; once you start to learn how to cope with what’s happened to you, and get back to your life, so your appetite will return. You can find more information on how eating well can make you feel better on the Young Minds website. However, for some people a traumatic experience like being a victim of crime, particularly if the crime keeps happening over a period of time (such as bullying or an abusive relationship), can lead to a longer term eating disorder.

That may mean not eating enough, or becoming a compulsive eater and eating too much. If you’re worried that this is affecting you, it’s important that you talk to an adult you can trust about what you’re feeling and what’s happening. You can find more information about eating disorders at thesite.org there are lots of organisations that can help you if you are suffering from an eating disorder, but a good place to start is the Beat website for young people.

I’m feeling scared or having panic attacks...

Problems with anxiety are really common, and as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety problem at some point in their lives. Anxiety is the feeling of fear or panic. Most people feel anxious, panicky or fearful about situations in life, although usually once the difficult situation is over, you feel better and calmer. Sometimes, after a difficult experience such as being a victim of crime, the feelings of fear or anxiety continue, and can affect the way you do every day things.

Symptoms of anxiety include feeling frightened or nervous all the time. You may also feel down or depressed, be unable to concentrate on things, and feel tired and irritable. Physically you might have palpitations or a racing of your heart, dry mouth, trembling, faintness and you may experience stomach cramps or diarrhoea.

Panic attacks are feelings of extreme anxiety that can happen without any warning, and that usually last for about ten minutes. You may have difficulties breathing, and feel panicky and out of control. The feelings gradually calm down and go away, but they can leave you feeling quite shaken.

Although they can be scary, anxiety problems and panic attacks affect a lot of people, and there is plenty of help and support available. Young Minds has a lot of information on what anxiety is, and what help you can get, while Anxiety UK  has a whole section on how anxiety affects young people, and what you can do to cope. It also really helps to talk to an adult you can trust about what you’re feeling and what’s happening.

I’m self-harming – or I think I might...

Self-harm can be really hard to understand, but it’s a lot more common than some people think. Between one in 12 and one in 15 people self-harm. It usually means doing things such as cutting or burning yourself, causing bruising, pulling out your hair, or biting your nails excessively, and it can also include eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.

You may self-harm if you are feeling anxious, depressed or stressed, or if you are being bullied and feel that you do not have support or a way to deal with your problems. In some cases you may self-harm to relieve tension, to try and gain control of the issues that may be concerning you, or to punish yourself. Young people who self-harm often talk about the ‘release’ that they feel after they have self-harmed, as they use it as a mechanism to cope with their problems.

While it’s a more common issue than people often realise, it can be harmful, so it’s important to get help. If you can, try and talk to someone you know well and you can trust – whether it’s a parent or relative, a teacher, school nurse, friend or youth worker – but if you don’t feel like you can confide in anyone you know, then go and talk to your doctor or arrange to talk to a counsellor. There are specific guidelines for doctors and medical staff to follow when helping anyone who self-harms, including treating you with respect and dignity, and making sure your injuries are treated straight away. You won’t be judged or ignored. You may also be referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) team who can provide you with more specialist help.

There is also a lot of support and advice available online, including at Childline and Young Minds; both sites also share the experiences of other young people who have self-harmed, and how they have coped with it.

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