It is estimated that 400 in 10,000 people in the UK struggle with self-harm. But if this figure is so high, why is it never talked about? We need to banish the stigma around self-harm. It is one of the most common coping mechanisms for those suffering mental illnesses, yet is still a taboo subject.
Self-harm is when someone intentionally harms or injures themselves. It is often a way of coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and in society it is very misunderstood. For a lot of people, it can be hard to understand what would cause someone to physically harm themselves.
A way to cope with mental pain
As someone who has self-harmed on and off since I was 11 years old, I still can hardly comprehend why it is my go-to way of coping. I feel one of the main reasons self-harm came about for me was because I was hurting so much mentally and struggling so much with the many emotions I was feeling that it seemed like inflicting pain upon myself was the only way to ‘cope’, almost. It was a way of matching the pain I was having on the inside, mentally, to the outside.
Of course, I am embarrassed and ashamed. It is something I wish I never came across. I wish more than anything I hadn’t developed this strategy to cope. The extent of shame upon myself is only small in comparison to how ashamed I am of what other people may think of my actions. Will they think I’m crazy? That I need help? That I’m a ‘psycho’? Will people disassociate themselves from me?
People can misunderstand and judge
Before telling anyone about the way I was feeling, I was most worried about opening up about the self-harm element. It petrifies me that anyone would see me as ‘weak’ or as ‘vulnerable’. Writing about this subject is extremely difficult, and the thought of being judged is what scares me most.
I remember in a media interview with a newspaper, they asked, ‘Do you think you self-harm(ed) for attention?’ and I can honestly say no. I don’t hurt myself for attention. My worst nightmare is people seeing the scars on my arms. If I wanted attention, I wouldn’t go to every length I do to ensure that my arms are/have never been exposed to other people.
For me, it’s a very personal and private thing. It was my way of dealing with things that no one else knew about. My self-harm journey is unspoken about, no one knows the extent of it and many people are unaware I’ve even done it. If I’m honest, the last thing I thought I’d ever talk about to such a large audience is self-injury.
I’m telling my secret to help banish the stigma
I promised myself that I had to talk about self-harm, to make other people realise they’re not alone and try and help rid the taboo from the subject. To raise awareness for those who still struggle to understand. To try and make a difference in a society that still doesn’t take mental illness seriously by helping to banish the stigma around self-harm. How can anyone else feel comfortable talking about it when I don’t dare myself? I don’t know if any of what I’m doing currently will change the way the nation thinks about mental health, but if I can help just one person seek help, then for me, my job is done.
From the inside looking in, the questions that are likely to arise are: ‘How can someone who has an amazing support system in her friends, family and school staff, who plays football every week for her home town, someone who’s just accepted a scholarship in America want to cause physical harm to themselves?’ ‘Why would she want to ruin her body?’ ‘How can this even help?’ All of these questions, unfortunately, I’ve heard before. However, not one of these questions, I can say, made me feel any bit better about myself.
Seeking help is a sign of strength
When you’re in a depth of despair, under a never-ending storm cloud that continues to pour with rain on you, overwhelmed with the hundreds of emotions yet also the numbness you’re feeling, it makes sense. I don’t think I’ll ever know why hurting myself was the one thing I resorted to.
But one thing I know did help me was finally talking about it.
Unfortunately, I waited a very long time to actually speak to anyone about what I was doing to my body. It took until both arms, both legs, my ankles and my hips were covered in cuts, to actually reach out for help. This was mainly due to the fear of being judged and disappointing people.
One of my biggest fears whilst in this dark place was disappointing the people I cared about most.
If I’m honest, it took a very long time for my parents, my friends and family to come to terms with. To this day, I don’t think they’ll ever understand. If I’m honest, I would never want them to understand the incredibly low self-esteem and feelings that make you want to inflict your body with pain. Why would I?
More common than you might think
Over time, talking about it with a friend that has been in the same boat as me, through medical support, regular GP appointments, medication and the one on one support from a teacher at school, I feel like this massive, shameful secret I had is easier to cope with.
To this day I refuse to wear short sleeves. If anything, it’s because I’m worried about having questions asked, people looking and the shame I still somewhat feel (but shouldn’t). However, I do feel able to talk more openly about it and that, for me, is massive. We need to get rid of the taboo and banish the stigma around self-harm. It’s a lot more common than you think and seeking help is a sign of strength and not weakness.
Banish the stigma
The biggest thing I want to come from this is improved communication within society about these types of issues that aren’t talked about enough and just how important it is to start talking. It’s by no means easy but it is important to banish the stigma and the stereotype around self-harm and try and encourage empathy and make bigger support systems available to people who are suffering. Raising awareness leads to the education of not only young people, but society as a whole. We can’t keep pretending that it’s not a thing and pushing it under the rug. We’ve got to talk about it.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted on itstimetotalkmh