Self Injury Awareness Day – 1st March

March 2, 2020

Self-Harm or Self-Injurious Behaviour is something that can, on some level, affect many more of us than we may initially realise. When someone says the words ‘Self Harm’ what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Probably cutting or burning oneself, maybe something else. But if I used the term ‘Self Injurious Behaviour’, would this change your perspective slightly? We think that self-harm is something that only effects those that are dealing with a severe mental health issue, but is this true?

Self-injurious behaviour encompasses a vast range of behaviours. Excessively drinking or using drugs, engaging in risky sexual behaviour, self-sabotage in relationships or work. When we change our perception of the subject to include many of these variations, we can begin to see how this can potentially affect a far greater number of us than we first thought.

People can engage in these activities for many reasons. Feeling we don’t deserve the good things that happen to us, so we self-sabotage, normally unconsciously. Sometimes people hurt themselves as they feel it is the only thing that they have control over, or possibly to feel something other than the monotony of depression.

One thing that self-harm almost never indicates, is a true desire to complete suicide. This is something that is often misinterpreted. Sometimes people will say that people who self-harm are ‘attention seeking’, which may in some cases be true, but probably not in the way that you first think. It’s more of a quiet cry for help. The situations and feelings that can lead to someone engaging in harmful activities are often taboo or difficult to talk about, people can feel that they have no other option.

This is why it’s so important to allow people to feel comfortable talking freely about these feelings/behaviours. If someone approaches you to talk about self-harm or you suspect that someone may be self-harming, one of our first reactions can be to try and get them to stop immediately, or to try and understand why they are doing it. Sometimes people need an ultimatum in order to incentivise them to stop, but more often than not this will only increase the persons level of distress. Moreover, it can be very difficult for someone to vocalise exactly why they do these harmful things, and even less likely that someone who has no experience of these behaviours would understand.

At the end of the day, self-harm is a coping strategy. Not a particularly positive or healthy one, but still a way of managing difficult feelings. The best thing that we can do for someone who is struggling to stop self-injuring is to simply be there for them, don’t push them to talk about or show you what they’ve done. Encourage them to seek professional help.

In order to decrease the number of people that end up resorting to this as a way of coping, we need to educate people (especially children) and teach them to be a little more in touch with how they are feeling. When are we beginning to struggle? And to teach more productive, positive ways of managing these feelings. Physical exercise, talking with a trusted friend, artistic/creative activities. This isn’t to say that these things will work for everyone, and inevitably there will be times when a mental health issue or exceptional situation will mean that these strategies don’t work. This is why we still have work to do, breaking down the stigma surrounding this frequently misunderstood type of behaviour. We’ve come a long way, but because of the nature of self-harm, there will always be an element of mystery around it.

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