Self-harm is a very personal & often taboo subject, but I still think it has to be discussed. So many people think it’s what attention seekers do, or that it’s just cutting. If it’s not spoken about it just increases the nature for it to be hidden, secretive & a very lonely time for those who struggle with this compulsion.
We educate our children in schools regarding alcohol, smoking, sex & contraception. Does discussing sex & alcohol increase its occurrence? I have no statistics, but I doubt it. Does it give them facts, knowledge, choices & awareness? Absolutely & that same knowledge should be there for those who are struggling to express themselves. Friends can learn to watch out for the signs & be aware of places of help & support.
Self-harm is anything that causes yourself harm, whether it be hair pulling, burning, cutting, starving yourself, making yourself sick, overeating, scratching & so many other things. And it’s not for attention. It’s often done privately & well covered to avoid arousing suspicion. Those who cause marks to their body become clever with make-up & clothing in order for these things to be never seen. A smile can hide many secrets.
The hardest thing for those who it has never effected, is not to judge those who are effected by it. It’s also hard to accept but trying to stop someone without knowing how best to handle the situation can cause more harm than good. In January this year I attended the Mental Health First Aid 2 Day course, MHFA course & we discussed self-harm at some length. How & when someone would need emergency treatment & what else you can do in the meantime.
Self-harm can be a stopper between thinking about & attempting suicide. It’s not always, but it can be. Taking away that security blanket can cause some people to feel they have no getaway or back up plan, so they feel all their options have been taken away & are backed into a corner. It’s often the only thing in their life they feel control over.
There are also things that are very common to do instead of self-harm. These may not always work, but it is worth trying some to see if it can help:
- Snapping an elastic band
- Drawing on yourself with felt tips
- Purring glue on your hand & slowly peeking it off
- Colouring with your “angry” pen, a dark pen you can scribble over paper with
- Putting ice on your skin
- Using a nice hand moisturiser, feeling the softness & smell the scent
Sometimes these help, sometimes it’s like telling someone that giving up smoking or chocolate, that eating a carrot stick is the same. It’s not the same, but we have to take small steps in recovery. And it’s about learning new behaviours & making those changes slowly so they become habits!
If you ever find out that someone is self-harming try not to judge them. They don’t want to do it. They are expressing feelings in the best way they know. They probably feel more guilty than you would ever know & your upset & angry, frustrated comments will probably just validate the inner critic in their head telling them how pathetic they are. If they trust you enough to talk to about it, try your best to listen. It will be hard, so hard, but try. You probably can’t solve the problem, but listening will help.
I don’t have all the answers but I do know that our schools & teachers need the education & training to be able to speak about subjects such as this along with mental health awareness, illness & wellbeing. Because as I frequently say we all have mental health, some have mental illness.
Let’s open the debate & try to end another stigma