Awareness overload… Self harm awareness day

Trigger warning: self harm!

At the risk of flooding my blog with awareness overload I would like to just mention self harm give that it’s self harm awareness day…

Talking about self harm is something I find so much harder than talking about my eating disorder. It feels like people have a stronger reaction to it and tend to focus on the injury rather than the stuff behind it.

Why do people self harm?

Obviously this is for many many many different reasons. It varies from person to person but it also varies for that person. However, as a generalisation (remembering that generalisations aways miss out something), people self harm for two reasons:

  1. Because they are feeling too much, self harm brings that under control. For example, I really really struggle with feeling angry. It completely overwhelms me and I currently have no (healthy) way to cope with it. Self harm is a way of turning the anger down, or off, so I can continue to live.
  2. Because they aren’t feeling anything, self harm gives them something to feel or validates their existence. For example, over the years I have had periods of disassociation, where i’ve felt invisible and completely cut off from myself. It’s like  watching your body live but you haven’t really got anything to do with it. Self harm has allowed me to break through the disassociated state. In feeling pain and seeing the injury, I’ve got myself ‘back into my body’ and confirmed to myself that I’m real.

This is obviously incredibly simplistic and is looking very much at the core reasons. I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years though and my reasons for self harm, do fit into this model. Self harm has allowed me to see my pain (reason 1), to care for myself (reason 1 or 2, in both cases what you’re really trying to get to is something which makes you feel better), to cope in difficult situations (1), to avoid suicide (a risk for me of reason 2)…

Self harm and suicide

They are generally not related. Of course more people who self harm attempt suicide because they are already a group of people at risk of emotional pain. (I’ve struggled with the wording of that but I hope it makes sense.) however, self harm is generally a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with something so that you can continue to live. For me, self harm and anorexia both prevented my suicidal feelings from reaching the point where I made an active attempt to kill myself. I was drowning in depression and self harm and anorexia numbed that pain which meant I could ask for help.

What can I do if I’m self harming or I’m concerned my friend is?

I didn’t really feel I could write this without a little bit of signposting (my day job is all about signposting people to support…).  As I’m in the UK, this is what I know however there’s lots of support elsewhere.

  • Talk to a friend. It’s hard. It’s scary. But having someone know you are in emotional pain helps. If you’re unsure about talking about self harm, focus on what it is that’s making you self harm.
  • If a friend tells you they self harm, stay calm, check if they need medical assistance but don’t make it all about the injury. “I imagine you are feeling some pain, or are finding things difficult, would you like to talk about it?”
  • If you know the core reason you self harm, approach appropriate support. That’s a bit vague but what I mean is, if you’re a young carer who’s self harming because of the pressure of being a young carer, talk to your local carers centre. If it’s because you’ve experienced domestic abuse, try your local domestic abuse charity. But you might not have a core reason and that’s ok too. It’s just if you do, getting support for it will help with the problem rather than focusing purely on self harm which is more of a symptom.
  • Talk to your gp. I wanted to include this but with a note of caution, some gps are better than others… Check if your surgery has someone with an interest in mental health. In the UK, your doctor is required to keep your appointment confidential unless they believe you or another person are at risk of harm although they will encourage you to speak to your parents.
  • If you’re in education, try a teacher, school nurse or counsellor.
  • Online support can be fantastic if you’re not ready to speak to someone you know. Just remember, the internet has good and bad and you are looking for support not people to drag you down.Try the NSHN forum for example or some of the organisations below.
  • National organisations: Mind, Young Minds, Young Minds Parents Helpline, Samaritans, Self Harm UK, Life Signs
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