Self-Harm: A 21st century cultural phenomena

I first came into contact with Self-harm in 1996. Then later at a supported housing organisation, where numerous occupants (usually women) would play “Russian roulette,” where they would nominate one of the ‘group’ to voluntarily and/or by pressure from the “Alfa female” to cut themselves that evening. It then became a ritual, and they would go to the chemist to buy their paraphernalia like antiseptic lotions and large bandages. Later they would text a summary of their cutting episode accompanied with photos to other Self-harmers. In a sense they were self-harming in safety, they knew if they cut too deep they could alert someone and ask for assistance and support.  Believe me the sight of pulsing cut artery, is a scary and panicky situation and needs immediate expert attention.

Some people upload pictures of their cuts onto their social networks on the internet. There were occasions when there seemed to be a frenzy of cutting in one night effecting many. The next day, some would approach me openly wearing their ‘bandages’ of pride as if to say “Look! here is proof of the depth of my emotional pain and the way I cope with it”

Whatever your view of this 21st century cultural phenomena, it was ironically mentioned in the Bible, however I have rarely come across a Self-harmer that wanted to commit suicide, unless they were also suffering from another psychological condition like depression or had been using a mood altering drug or alcohol. They generally want to heal their emotional pain that screamed out to be nurtured and loved.

Parents all over the UK are at their wits end, and speak to me about the powerlessness of their beautiful “teenagers” as they watch them mutilate themselves. However to the self harmer this is a unique coping mechanism that needs to be respected in its own right.

Remember this is a very short summary of the complicated and multi-faceted issue of self-harming and is by no means the panacea for the condition.

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