Tuesday 1st March 2016
For four years now, Young Minds has been working with three other charities to campaign
and spread awareness of self-harm particularly on 1st March. The charities hope that the campaign will get people talking and help to dissipate some common misconceptions. Some people show support for the campaign by wearing an orange ribbon or wristband, or drawing an orange butterfly on their wrist in support of ‘the butterfly project‘ (a method of stopping self-harm publisised on social media).
One of the charities involved in this movement is selfharmUK who run a safe, pro-recovery website that supports young people who self-harm and the people around them. They share people’s stories, answer questions, provide information and guide people to getting help in whatever way they need. Here, I would like to answer some common questions and challenge some stereotypes surrounding self-harm, with the help of articles I have read on www.selfharm.co.uk
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is anything that someone does to themselves that causes them even the slightest bit of harm with the intention of feeling emotionally better. Many things fall under the umbrella of self-harm, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse; it is not restricted to cutting and it is not a suicide attempt.
Why do people self-harm?
It is thought that 13% of young people aged 11-16 will self-harm at some point. For each of those people, the reasons behind their actions will be unique. Often these reasons will make the behaviour seem rational, despite the body’s urge to protect itself. Some might use it as a coping mechanism, others to make sure they can still feel things, or to punish themselves for something to name just a few. Every story of self-harm will be different: people will be affected by different situations, come from different backgrounds, suffer for different amounts of time etc. It can, and will, affect anyone and everyone so it is impossible to layout a definitive answer to why people self-harm.
Depression is often closely associated with self-harm, and while it is true that many people suffering from depression resort to self-harm it is not a defining symptom. not everyone who has depression will self-harm and not everyone who self-harms is depressed.
Perhaps most importantly to say under this bracket is that self-harm is almost never an attention seeking technique. Many people who self-harm will hide their actions from everyone around them for months at a time, before the problem is discovered. Classifying the condition as attention seeking may stop people coming forward for help due to the fear of being judged or disregarded, and no-one should be suffering with this alone.
How can people recover from self-harm?
Recovery from self-harm is never easy, but can be done. Self-harming can become addictive: one theory is that, as with any other pain, the body responds to the pain by releasing a rush of its natural pain-killing ‘feel good’ hormones, endorphins and this rush can lead to a very addictive habit which can be a challenge to break. Like any other addiction the pattern will be very easy to slip back into: an alcoholic can’t have even one drink or they will have seven, someone with a history of self-harm can’t let themselves fall back even once or the cycle will begin again.
No-one will recover from self-harm if they aren’t ready. People can hide sharp objects etc, but at the end of the day if someone wants to hurt themselves they will find a way. However, I believe that at some point everyone will reach that point when they want things to change. Something that started off helping will become something controlling and obsessive, but once the decision has been made to change the journey has begun.
Different methods for recovery will work for different people. Some might need insentive like the #cutcake campaign (see this video) or the butterfly project, where you draw a butterfly on your body and if you hurt yourself before the butterfly has faded the butterfly will die. Others might need a distraction at the time when the usually self-harm, like listening to music or drawing on their body in felt tip to release the energy creatively rather than destructively.
Often, self-harm is hiding other underlying issues and it may be beneficial to seek professional help from a psychotherapist or Councillor, and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Sevices (CAHMS) can be accessed via a GP or school referral. However, everyone will need different levels of support. There are links here and here with recommended places to visit if you or someone you know needs help.
There is so much more I could say – I have barely scraped the surface of what is an enormous topic of discussion, but I think that the most important thing here is that everyone is different. Self-harm will not always be obvious; it could affect anyone for any reason at anytime. Therefore it affects us all. 1 in 12 young people self-harm so it is likely that you know someone who is suffering or has suffered at some time, whether you realise it or not.
If you are affected, please know that you are not alone. There are people out there who will understand and there will be people in your life to support you. It will be difficult, but I promise you it will be worth it. Never lose hope.