Self harm - lets get it out in the open
Self-Injury or self-harm is still a subject that we as a society find difficult to talk about. It is rarely in the mainstream media and there is unease around it. Perhaps the majority of people find it difficult to understand why somebody would deliberately harm their body and inflict injury. Even today much of society finds it difficult to separate it from suicide and attempted suicide.
Yet self-harm is almost the opposite of suicide, rather than a method to end it all it is usually a method of coping of being able to carry on with life. The danger as with any risky behaviour is that it can go wrong and death might be the result.
Self-harm or self-injury (I shall use the terms interchangeably) is the deliberate harming or exposing the body to danger. There is not a single list of behaviours that define self-harm, however, the more common ones are cutting, burning, scratching, misusing drugs and alcohol or banging head against walls. However, this is not a definitive list, for these are the outward appearances of something which is not an illness but the outward signs of deep internal emotional trauma.
Figures are difficult to estimate because it can remain largely hidden but estimates are that as many as 10% of young people self-harm at some point. It would seem that young girls in the 15-19 age groups are most at risk but increasingly young men and older self-harmers have been on the increase.
It is often associated with anxiety and depression, but equally can be as a result of trauma at a young age (for example abuse, separation or bullying). Self-harm may also be away of punishing yourself for mistakes or behaviours perceived to be unacceptable by the self-harmer.
It is a condition from which recovery is possible, although it can be a slow process especially if the individual has been self-harming for a long period of time. It is important to realise that self-harm is a way of directing the anger back in on oneself, of coping with it. It is important to realise that it is a coping mechanism in the same way as screaming or crying might be a coping mechanism directed outwards. The first step is for the self-harmer to want to stop.
It can be difficult to get help as specific-self-harm resources are thin on the ground. Yet don’t let that stop you asking for help from your GP or one of the many self-harm groups. Talking therapies and talking about how you feel about yourself, your life, your feelings and your self-harm have success in making a difference in your recovery and a good GP can help you access these.
If you are a friend or coping with a family member supporting someone who is self-injuring it can be very difficult to deal with your own feelings before you even consider coping with the sufferers feelings. However, you can help by looking after any injuries, being honest and open about the self-harm so the sufferer feels they can talk about it and remember not just to see them as a series of injuries but rather as a whole person who is coping in a difficult way with personal distress.