Willow Smith bravely revealed a painful secret that affects too many SA teens and young adults

Jada Pinkett Smith and Willow Smith attending the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week.
Jada Pinkett Smith and Willow Smith attending the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week.

Red Talk Table is a show that is hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith alongside her daughter Willow Smith and her mother Adrienne. The women open their home for a series of candid conversations with family and friends.

In this week's episode, Jada decided to tackle the topic of loss after receiving a phone call that a dear friend of hers had passed away. The three women sat around the table to discuss their experiences around the subject.

Jada asked her daughter Willow what her greatest loss had been. 

The 17-year-old said, "I would honestly have to say that I lost my sanity at some point."

Willow went on to say that she lost it after she released hit single 'Whip my hair" (she was nine years old at the time). She explained that she was in a grey area - she had stopped taking her singing lessons, her record label wanted her to finish her album and she was listening to a lot of dark music. 

Willow says that she felt like she had been plunged into a black hole and so she started cutting herself. Jada and Adrienne were completely shocked by Willow's revelation but they engaged her and showed no signs of judgement which is something many people on social media have applauded them for. 

Willow's confession revealed something that plagues young adolescent children and teens - self-harm.  

READ MORE: My battle with depression – and how I found the will to keep going

Just over a month ago on the first of March, it was Self-injury Awareness day. The day is set to raise awareness on the prevalence of self-harm among teenagers and young adolescents.

In a press release by Akeso Clinics, Clinical psychologist Robert Whittaker says that prevalence of self-harm is increasingly common in teen populations. The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) notes that "No one knows whether it's a sudden epidemic or has been rising gradually, but there appears to be a significant increase in its occurrence." 

By definition, self-harm is the deliberate infliction of damage to your own body and includes cutting, burning, and other forms of injury. 

While self-harm may look like a suicide attempt the SACAP says that the intent of the two acts are different. With self-harm, the intent is to find relief and release from emotional pain and distress. Whittaker adds that "Cutting releases endorphins into the system which have a marked effect on the adolescent's emotional state." In fact, many teens have reported feeling calm and emotionally regulated during and immediately after cutting. 

READ MORE: Here's how to go to a party alone if you have social anxiety

Although a person who is self-harming may not intend to commit suicide, their self-injurious behaviour may result in accidental death. 

So why do so many young adolescents self-harm? According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), "Most people who self-mutilate have difficulty expressing their feelings verbally and may have a dislike for themselves and their bodies."

Other reasons involve low self-esteem, difficulties with relationships and lack of communication skills "coupled with mental health issues that may be related to depression and/or anxiety and stress". 

It is important to note that self-harming is not a mental illness in itself but rather it is a symptom of an underlying problem such as those mentioned. 
While people may find it difficult to help someone who self-harms Whittaker cautions that we should not shame them for their actions. 

READ MORE: Woman nearly driven to suicide by bullying over facial scars

SADAG says that young people who self-harm, do not need responses like stereotyping, condemnation, judgemental attitudes, assumptions about what their behaviour means i.e. seeking attention.

Instead, they need "care, concern, compassion, support assistance to find alternative coping skills, and gentle encouragement to recognise and put words to their emotions." And that is how Jada and her mother responded to her revelation. Willow was given the platform and space to speak her truth without being judged and condemned for harming herself. 

Have you ever self-harmed or know someone who has? If you would like to share your experiences with us, please mail us on chatback@w24.co.za

If you or someone you know needs help call the SADAG 24hr helpline: 0800 12 13 14

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.  

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, I believed it was authentic
7% - 394 votes
Yes, I didn't want to spend that much money on the original item
20% - 1137 votes
No, I always shop at reputable stores
13% - 752 votes
No, I don't wear designer clothing
60% - 3437 votes