What does someone with a mental illness look like? Sound like? Act like?
Can someone be severely struggling with mental health but still able to portray themselves as a functioning person? Still look well groomed, hold a conversation to the point that you’d have no idea? Does someone have to have not have washed or got out of bed to be suicidal?
I believe that these are some of the most important questions that need to be asked and addressed in regards to mental health awareness.
These are factors that are so ingrained in to society about how someone with severe mental illness should present and portray themselves. Not just by the general public but also government bodies such as the DWP and also unfortunately by some mental health professionals themselves.
People self harm when dealing with very difficult feelings and overwhelming situations and often comes hand in hand with mental illness.
I starting self harming from around the age of 14. No one would have known. I kept it tightly under lock and key.
I remember the first time I self harmed very clearly. I didn’t even know it was self harm, I didn’t know it had a name and I don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t something that was on soaps then that I had watched, I hadn’t heard of or seen anyone else doing it either. I just picked up that blade and cut myself out of the blue because I didn’t know what else to do with the noise inside my head.
I was feeling so much upset, frustration, anger and pain that at time I felt I could jump through a brick wall using the sheer force of my emotions as the fuel to get through it. I wanted to scream at the top of lungs but couldn’t and so it stayed a constant screaming inside my head that just got louder and louder.
It’s like a pan boiling over. Completely overwhelming emotions.
Self harm has a reputation for being an attention seeking behaviour. Let me say right now that it is not. If it was for attention we would cut where you could see, not somewhere that you can’t. In actual fact the thought of someone actually finding out is terrifying. Why else would people that self harm swealter in the heat in long sleeve tops or trousers in the summer? If people that self harmed wanted you to know then you would know the second they did it but that isn’t the case. People will to great lengths to cover it up.
People that self harm are experiencing extreme emotions that seem unmanageble, mental illness, overwhelming situations, using it to punish themselves for something that they feel they’ve done, to feel like they have control over their thoughts and feelings and while people that self harm aren’t doing it to kill themselves they may be doing it to express suicidal feelings without actually doing so.
It’s extreme emotional distress that is behind self harm and it should never be laughed off, shrugged off or assumed that it’s attention seeking behaviour. Trust me, to do that is very dangerous and only makes matters worse. Believe me. I know.
Self harm isn’t always cutting it can also include and not limited to : over eating and under eating, punching walls, deliberately getting in to fights, overdosing, hitting yourself and burning yourself.
My outlet was cutting and at it’s worst my thighs were completely covered in cuts. It was always enough to cause pain and to quieten the screaming in my head and fizzle some of the overwhelming frustration and sadness but never enough that it would require any attention for anyone else to have to see.
I was once asked by a psychiatrist on an inpatient ward “Don’t you like that kind of attention? You haven’t actually tried to kill yourself have you? You can leave if you want” Luckily it was decided by other staff members that I shouldn’t leave because If I had then I most probably would have tried to end my life at that point. Self harm should never be treated in this way, like it’s insignificant because it’s anything but.
It’s not something thats “trendy”, it’s not something that is only done by teenagers, it’s not attention seeking, it’s not something that is a “phase” and it’s not someone trying to kill themselves, however if it’s treated in these ways it very well could be.
Please don’t shout at a child if you find out they are self harming or demand answers, ask them why they would want to do something like that, ask if they are trying to kill themselves and belittle it. I remember the moment that happened to me and I will never forget it. Had I been given some time and compassion instead maybe things would have gone a little differently. It can be hard to know how to react. Just please don’t react in anger.
If you are struggling with self harm please know that things can get better. I self harmed for so many years I believed it was just a part of me, that I would never stop doing it when things got too much. Now I haven’t self harmed for around 8 years. It still crosses my mind at points, I can’t lie and say it ever completely 100% goes away.
There have been times when i’ve been extremely close but I learned to distract myself – I HATED people saying that when I was actually going through it, my reaction always being “If only it were that simple!” and you may feel that way too. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. It’s a process and it’s something that takes time but eventually it can get better and the urges become less and in time they can almost disappear. Just take it a step at a time. Little by little. I did it and believe me I didn’t think It possible. You can too.
Below I have linked some support options out there, but the main thing is to find the courage to tell someone. To talk about it. That is so important. Hiding it makes it grow and the secrecy eats away at you. It’s hard. So hard – it’s incredibly brave to speak out about it but you can do it. Find someone you trust. Take a deep breath and be honest – that’s the first step to getting better and something you CAN do. It may feel impossible but it’s a vital step.
I have recently been shown an app for young people who self harm, which has been co produced by young people themselves with lived experience of self harm which looks very good and well worth checking out if you are a young person or parent.
Blue Ice app is a prescribed evidence based app that aims to help young people manage their emotions and reduce urges to self harm. I wish I had been given something like this to try at the beginning of my self harming, it’s well worth looking in to. It includes a mood diary, techniques to reduce distress and automatic routing to emergency numbers if the urges to harm yourself continues.
It’s prescription based to be used alongside face to face intervention so you would need to check with your local CAMHS to see if they offer it, if they don’t it’s worth mentioning to them and see if they can subscribe to it.
Also for young people is selfharm.co.uk which provides a safe space for young people to talk, ask questions and be honest about what’s going on in their lives without the fear of judgement.
For adults there is is National self harm network which supports people who self harm to reduce emotional distress and has an online support forum which provides crisis support, discussions and distractions and it’s also closely monitored.
It’s hard to know what to say sometimes to someone struggling with mental health issues.
It can feel like you can’t do right for doing wrong and no matter what you say it doesn’t help. It’s hard. Really bloody hard and it’s easy to be left feeling helpless just trying to say anything to make the person suffering feel better. I get that, the words come from a good place but there are some things that really are better left unsaid.
1. “IT COULD BE WORSE”
You’re not wrong it could be. We could say this of every single person on the planets situations. It could ALWAYS be worse, you could always throw something else in to the mix of a bad situation and make it a total disaster. However, this doesn’t help. It makes someone suffering with mental illness feel inadequate….Most likely on top of what they already do, like they shouldn’t be moaning, like it’s no big deal. It IS a big deal. Mental illness is a total big deal and it can feel like it couldn’t get any worse. If someone is feeling suicidal and those words are spoken believe me, it’s a soul crusher and leaves you feeling like a waste of air.
Everyone experiences things differently, this does not mean that one persons problems are worse than someone else’s just because they are different.
Don’t let anyone tell you-you are defined by your mental health. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something, be someone, live your life. You can be whatever you wish to be, follow the dreams that you have always wanted. Life is tough darling, but so are you.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.