March 1, 2021
Hannah talking about the difficult subject of self-harm or self-injury for SIAD 2021
Self-harm or self-injury can be a difficult topic to discuss as it is so widely misunderstood and the reasons that people harm themselves can vary immensely. Contrary to popular belief, the reason that people self-harm is rarely linked to any suicidal feelings (although the two can go hand-in-hand) – it’s not usually a sign of someone wanting to end their life but that they are dealing with some kind of inner turmoil that they need support with. In my own personal experiences and the experiences of others that I know, self-harm has been used as a way to cope with or manage complex feelings that are extremely difficult to articulate.
I started self-harming when I was 18 as a way to distract myself from my PTSD symptoms and to cope with incredibly low self-esteem. At my worst, I was hurting myself multiple times a day but I found that the more I did it, the less effective it was as a coping technique. It wasn’t until I sought help at Streetwise in Bury (now part of Early Break) that I was able to talk to someone about how I was feeling and found other, much healthier ways of managing these feelings.
For me, self-harm has never really gone away fully – I’ve had years at a time where I haven’t hurt myself but it always seems to come back in times when I’m really struggling with my mental health. I think it’s so difficult to talk about because of the stigma around self-harm; people think that it’s attention-seeking behaviour which is simply not the case. Those who self-harm are trying to cope with immense emotional pain and hurting themselves is hardly ever a first-choice but it’s a drastic measure for drastic circumstances. People don’t always know what to say if they notice any marks/scars and overly-pressing or avoiding the subject can increase those feelings of shame which makes it even harder to address the issues that are causing the person to self-harm in the first place. The toughest part for me is the scars that my self-harm leaves behind, my arms and legs are covered in them and I hate wearing anything that doesn’t cover these up; dealing with the awkward questions and the stares I get when people don’t think I notice is just painful for me.
In my opinion, the best way to approach it if you’re concerned about someone who is harming themselves is to be compassionate and ask if they need support. Rather than trying to get into any reasons why or what exactly they have done to themselves; offer help via a listening ear, check in with them about wound care – Do they need medical attention? Are they keeping everything clean so there’s less risk of infection? Or try and recommend any services that could support them (if they’ve seriously harmed themselves then get them to A&E). The last thing anyone wants, especially when feeling distressed, is to feel like they’re being judged so I think it’s really important to try and be understanding and stay as calm as possible in this situation – this can be difficult particularly if someone you care about is harming themselves but overreacting isn’t helpful for yourself or the other person.
The conversation around mental health has come a long way in recent years but self-harm is still not talked about enough because it makes people uncomfortable and ashamed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud that I’ve self-harmed in the past and it absolutely should not be promoted as a healthy way of coping – it’s not glamorous at all! However, nobody should be made to feel ashamed for struggling with their mental health; anyone who is self-harming needs support instead of judgement.