Self harm is misunderstood and often thought of as attention seeking behaviour. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People that self harm will mostly go to great lengths to hide it.
In a way, I was lucky that I learned to control it but this took many many many years and a distinct lack of help – including being told by a psychiatrist on an inpatient ward that it was “child’s play”, “didn’t I like that sort of attention?” ” you haven’t actually tried to kill yourself have you?” and I pretty much dealt with it alone.
It holds a lot of stigmas and people often don’t know how to react to it but the fact is the statistics are on the rise and young people are getting younger…
Once started it’s something that difficult to stop and very easily becomes an ingrained and “go to” coping mechanism.
My advice to anyone struggling is to speak to someone – whoever that may be – someone you trust, a helpline- anyone that will allow you to speak without judgment.
This is a very hard thing to do but it’s a brave and vital step to getting the help you need and the longer it lives in secrecy the harder things can become. It can be stopped. I didn’t think it could after years of not getting any real support for it, but you can come through it ♡
To any parents or carers I would say that just listening is so important, don’t judge, don’t assume they are trying to end their lives – while the self harming may be a way of expressing that this is how they feel the action of self harm itself doesn’t necessarily mean suicidal intent – it does mean there are overwhelming emotions and trying to get to the bottom of those is important and so talking, listening , and kindness are so important. Trying to get the person just to stop and focussing all the energy around that has the danger of pushing them away and making them less open and so supporting them emotionally and getting relevant help are vital.
Don’t judge people who self harm. Don’t assume their reasons for doing it. Listen. Be kind. It’s a very difficult time and words are important.
I hope that schools take note of the new statistics and mental health becomes spoken about it schools as part of a curriculum. Mental health issues are ever growing and children are getting younger.
I hope that children will be given the relevant knowledge and understanding to understand what is going on with themselves and also their peers!
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.
It makes us feel like we have lost ourselves and like we will never return, consumed by despair and hopelessness.
It’s easy to think when we are depressed that this is life. This is how it is now. We are lost in this hole and we can’t get out. There is no way out and we are now lost in this blackness.
This is where suicidal thoughts creep in. When we have lost hope. We believe there is no way out, no one can help. Nothing is ever going to make us feel good again and our old selves are like a dream that happened once upon a time.
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.
Dear You, the potentially amazing person who could change a life,
I want to take this opportunity to write to you on behalf of mental health patients to explain to you how much you mean to us, how your actions can save our lives…..Or in some cases break them.
We understand that your jobs must be very stressful, that you have undergone so much training to get where you are today and sometimes it must be easy to get bogged down- to stop seeing patients as individuals as you see so many and have to keep up with so many stories, so many cases and lives and that cannot be easy.
To those of you out there that speak to us like individuals, that take the time, don’t rush us out the door, don’t try and talk over us or push our own thoughts and feelings to one side to give us your own, that show empathy and compassion, ask us what WE think, listen – really listen – We commend you.
We are so grateful to you wonderful professionals that take that time to help us. When we come to you we often feel embarrassed, ashamed, confused and vulnerable and so when we are made to feel at ease by you and you offer a hand that we have been so desperate for it means the absolute world. Maybe even more than you could ever understand if you yourself have never been affected by mental illness. Some of us have been through this process many times, have seen many doctors and health professionals, poured our hearts out time and time again to have it overlooked and so sometimes we may come to you with our guard already up, we are ready to fight you before you have even introduced yourself and before we have even given you a chance but please understand that this is because we have been in battle. Battle with ourselves and in battle with the system for so long that it feels like we will never find anyone to be any different. This is why when you, the potentially amazing person with the chance to change a life comes along It means so much. It literally can mean our lives and I can guarantee if you are that amazing person you will never ever be forgotten and you will be appreciated more than you know, even if at times we may not show it, the fact that we trust you speaks volumes.
Unfortunately not all are amazing, there are some healthcare professionals within the system who I often have wondered why they chose the careers that they did. I am unsure why someone would choose to be in a caring profession, especially someone with more authority such a psychiatrist if they seemingly dislike dealing with patients with mental health issues., The same was i would question why someone would choose be be a chef if they hated cooking.
I can speak on behalf of myself and many others that I have spoken to over the years when I say that words, whilst extremely vulnerable can make or break. They can literally save a life or quite literally destroy it. It may sound extreme but at points that is the power that you hold in your hands and you may not even realise it at the time. To those that use that power wisely you deserve so much recognition and thanks, to those that don’t I am hoping maybe you will rethink how you view and treat your patients. That you may hear what you are saying to this human being – not just another case -in front of you and ask yourself wether you really believe what you are saying is right.
For example, I really hope that the psychiatrist that told me after an overdose that my problem was that my life was “boring empty and pointless” has thought about that since and realised that he shouldn’t have spoken to me that way. I hope that the psychiatrist that told me that self harm was “Childs play” and questioned me as to why I hadn’t actually attempted to kill myself and “didn’t I like that kind of attention?” has at some point in his career either been pulled up or looked at himself in the mirror and realised he is harming patients with comments like that.
Those examples are just the tip of my iceberg. They are just me. One person. I have heard some terrible stories. Stories where comments from people that hold the power to change someones like have destroyed it in one moment and made them suicidal – the straw that broke the camels back if you will.
I wonder how these things are allowed to happen. Unfortunately it’s not easy to challenge the system when making complaints, especially when vulnerable. Believe me I have tried.
On the other turn of the coin the ones that go above and beyond, that show care and massive amounts of compassion – you are the diamonds, the shining stars that we all search for. Sometimes the search for a star like you can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It becomes just as tedious too and feels just as hopeless but for those of us that find the fight to keep searching (because unfortunately many lose that hope and that fight) when we find you it’s a very special moment and you probably don’t even realise it but inside we feel like we have found gold. Finally someone that cares, Finally someone that wants to listen and we value you and what you do so much. Thank you.
The sad thing is all of you have the chance to be a diamond. To be that star we are searching for. We understand you are human, everyone has bad days. You are not immune to that but on a day to day basis holding the power you do in your hands you have the chance to be that star we have been desperately searching for. Some just seemingly never set out with that goal, or maybe lost sight of it along the way somewhere I am not sure.
Please just treat us as individuals, listen, be kind. That’s all we ask for. That’s all we want most of the time when we are in a bad place and so have had to come and see you. Please don’t belittle us, just hand us medication without talking to us first – definitely don’t tell us things along the lines of self harm being attention seeking or that we have wasted people’s time….and worse I have heard. Imagine this person sitting in front of you was your daughter/son/wife/husband, whoever it may be and ask yourself what you would feel if someone was saying those things to someone you loved, if you would be angry then please question why you are saying it to patients within your care.
To all you amazing people, the mental health professionals that change lives THANK YOU!
To the others that have said things that should have never been said, I am sure you know this already deep down, and I hope that you rethink the way you are treating vulnerable people. You have the potential to be amazing, to do something amazing – please take it – You literally have the power to make or break that person sat in front of you. To help or to hinder and all it takes is the right choice of words and the right approach.
Thank you to those that have changed my life and on behalf of all the other people who have found their diamonds.
There are so many still searching, so to YOU, the person with the potential to be amazing and change a life, the next patient you come in to contact with – please be theirs.
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.