March 1st was (and is) Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) each and every year. Overall, the month of March is self injury awareness month in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. The stigma of self-injury needs to be broken.
What is Self-Injury?
“Self-injury, sometimes called self-harm, is any deliberate, non-suicidal behavior that inflicts physical injury to your body. Self-harm by itself isn’t suicidal behavior. But if the emotional distress that causes self-injury continues, it can cause suicidal thoughts.”
Common types of self injury include: scratching, cutting, picking, burning, hair pulling, banging, non-suicidal overdosing, and bone breaking.
Self-injury affects people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or personal strength.
“Self-injury is an attempt at instant relief from an emotional pain. We often think of cutting when it comes to self-injury, but self-injury includes actions like burning, pulling hair out in clumps, breaking bones, scratching, bruising, and drinking something harmful like bleach. The physical pain of self-harm is often easier to deal with than the emotional pain behind it. Self-injury is a coping mechanism. It can help you deal with intense emotional distress by creating a calming sensation or the feeling that you have control of a situation. It’s also real pain. You can see the injury and know why it’s hurting as opposed to emotional pain.”
STIGMA: Because self-injury is more common among girls, it’s led to the gender based stigma that girls who self injure are attention seekers. There is an overall Stigma, despite the gender, that anyone who self-harms is seeking attention.
How do you help someone who self-injures?
- Get angry or show disgust. Negativity alienates and ultimatums only drive the person away from you.
- Deny the problem. It’s not the person’s problem or just one of his/her ‘things’. It’s not a fad, social statement or a phase he/she will grow out of.
- Hide sharp objects. If the person wants to self-injure, he/she will find a way.Judge the severity of the injury as an indicator of the level of emotional pain. A severely depressed person might only have scratches instead of cuts.
- Assume the person is okay once in treatment. Recovery from self-injury can take months, maybe even years.
- Stay calm. ‘Freaking out’ won’t solve anything. It will just close all lines of communication.
- Talk. Be non-judgmentally supportive. Ask “Why are you doing this to yourself?”
- Take the problem seriously. It’s not about attention-seeking or a growing pain.
- Seek treatment. Accompany the person to the doctor or counsellor but don’t be pushy about privacy.
- Find the triggers. Focus on the underlying problems rather than just the injury.
- Trust the person. Self-injury is just a small part of the person.
If you or someone you know has a cutting problem, here are resources to get help:
1-800-273-TALK – A 24-hour crisis hotline if you’re about to self-harm or are in an emergency situation.
To Write Love On Her Arms (http://www.TWLOHA.com) – A non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
1-800-SUICIDE – Hotline for people contemplating suicide.
1-800-334-HELP – Self Injury Foundation’s 24-hour national crisis line.
1-800-799-SAFE – Domestic violence hotline.
1-877-332-7333 – Real Help For Teens’ help line.
(various info. borrowed from Huffingtonpost and lifesigns.org)